WASHINGTON — First came the apology, then the scolding.
That was U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott’s attempt to steer a congressional hearing Tuesday over the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups to what he considers the central issue — whether taxpayers ought to subsidize organizations that might have political agendas.
The Seattle liberal told six witnesses from tea party groups and others the IRS made a mistake in singling out their tax-exempt applications for delays and close examination. The hearing was held before the House Ways and Means Committee, of which McDermott is a member.
“It is unacceptable in every way for a government agency to unfairly scrutinize any organization because of their political affiliations,” McDermott said. “I am sorry your organizations were singled out like this, and while I think this was a case of foolish account management and dangerously careless shortcuts, I will not hesitate to say that the IRS was wrong.” (Cue this video to the 1:18:30 mark.)
But McDermott quickly reminded the witnesses that “none of your organizations were kept from organizing or silenced. We are talking about whether or not the American taxpayers would subsidize your work.”
The witnesses spoke of “intrusive” tactics and obstruction by IRS employees in granting them tax-exempt status. But McDermott said the groups were engaged in highly political work, such as opposing gay marriage, that goes beyond promoting social welfare that is the basis of tax exemptions.
Rep. Dave Reichert, a Republican from Auburn who also sits on Ways and Means, made a similar point about AARP in 2011. Reichert accused the seniors’ advocacy group of misusing its tax-exempt charter when it actively backed President Obama’s 2010 health-care law.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Reichert mused that IRS Acting Commissioner Steve Miller resigned last month on the president’s order.
“Who else should be asked to resign?” Reichert asked.