Was revenge the real IRS motive?

Published on Wednesday, 9 July 2014 22:53 - Written by

Exactly what is the New York Times saying here? If the “real scandal” at the IRS isn’t that agency’s targeting of conservative groups, but the conservative groups’ targeting of the IRS, does that mean the IRS was simply out for revenge?

How is that supposed to make us feel better?

In an editorial on Saturday, the Times tries to add some “historical context” to the agency’s outrageous actions.

“There is a scandal going on at the Internal Revenue Service, but it has nothing to do with Lois Lerner or her missing emails,” the editorial reads. “House Republicans have not given up on their noisy crusade to tie Ms. Lerner to what they imagine to be widespread political corruption within the Obama administration, but all they have proved is that the I.R.S. is no better at backing up its computer files than most other government agencies. No, the real scandal is what Republicans did to cripple the agency when virtually no one was looking. Since the broad Tea Party-driven spending cuts of 2010, the agency’s budget has been cut by 14 percent after inflation is considered, leading to sharply reduced staff, less enforcement of the tax laws and poor taxpayer service.”

So it was the “sequestration” cuts in 2010 that resulted in the agency cracking down on applications from conservative groups for tax-exempt status — just in time for the 2012 elections?

That’s the claim. The Times also laments the agency was forced to cut down on the number of tax audits it conducts.

“In 2013, it audited only 24 percent of returns over $10 million, compared with 30 percent in 2010,” the Times notes. “Of returns reporting between $1 million and $5 million, it audited 16 percent in 2013, compared with 21 percent in 2010. That is great news for the nation’s highest-income taxpayers, many of whom donate generously to Republican politicians to keep their taxes low.”

Again, is this something we’re supposed to feel bad about?

This poorly formulated editorial doesn’t bother to explain the leap in logic it takes to get from sequestration cuts to targeting conservative groups.

You’ll recall that the sequestration cuts happened because both parties agreed to the cuts, as a way to force themselves to make better, more directed spending reductions. When they failed to do so, sequestration kicked in.

But the world didn’t end. Despite the dire predictions of the White House and the Democrats, few Americans felt any effects whatsoever from the cuts. And to this day, the president takes credit for the boost to the federal bottom line the cuts provided.

But the real problem with the editorial is the motivation it provides for the IRS, which doesn’t deny the targeting took place.

If the scandal occurred because the IRS was going after the Tea Party — which had little to do with the sequestration deal at all — then it was an act of outright revenge.

That’s far more troubling than the previous explanation the administration has offered — incompetence.

An agency driven by revenge is a threat to all Americans.