“It's strange how "scandal" gets defined these days in Washington. At the moment, everyone is screaming about the "scandal" of the Internal Revenue Service scrutinizing conservative nonprofits before granting them tax-exempt status.”—
This should be the last word in the so-called “IRS scandal” which is getting smaller with each detail I hear about it. It won’t be, because Benghazi is revealing itself to be an old fashioned failure of intelligence and not an Iran-Contra style liefest, so certain segments of the population devote a lot of time to bringing a president down. And I get that, I spent the 8 years of Bush 2 mired in what the Onion called outrage fatigue. I was concerned about spending, defense, America’s place in the world. But that’s also because Bush 2 increased spending, got us caught in our nations longest war, saw 13 American embassy attacks occur (in Yemen! Greece! Pakistan! Countries far more stable than Libya!). If you’re all of a sudden concerned with spending and safety of our troops, you need to ask yourself what’s different about this President.
Some big points that need to be made:
- eventually, after the ‘tea party’ classification was deemed unfair, groups that were interested in “limiting/expanding government” were targeted (italics mine). Doesn’t sound like they’re JUST going after conservative groups.
- Congress’ bi-partisan complicity: “The IRS was swamped by the wave. The number of groups seeking C4 status from the agency rose from 1,500 in 2010 to 3,400 last year. Meanwhile, the agency was being pulled in two directions. In February last year, seven Democratic senators complained that the IRS was too “permissive” with its rules, which judged a C4 not to be engaged “primarily” in electioneering as long as no more than 49% of its spending went to such activities. In August, 10 GOP senators warned the agency to deep-six any efforts to tighten the rules on C4s.” Nice to see those guys agreeing on something.
- The Koch brothers backed Citizens United, the court decision that makes such organizations viable. And the Koch brothers are bidding for the LA Times, so enjoy this kind of journalism while it lasts.
“The other point...which we're not hearing frequently or loudly enough...is a real scandal: 'the social welfare tax exemption is being used by existing 501(c)(4) organizations, including some very large ones, to promote partisan political interests—the very activity Congress has explicitly prohibited for a century.' In other words, Karl Rove and Crossroads. This is a serious issue, one deserving of investigation. But Republicans could be biting off more than they can chew if it causes a bright light to be shone on how politically partisan organizations, like Rove's, are exploiting the law.”—Joan McCarter at Daily Kos
“After the Supreme Court’s notorious Citizens United decision in 2010 that opened the way for corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money in political campaigns, all that new funding needed someplace to go where it would not be easily tracked. In response, the number of groups seeking 501(c)(4) status – which, in addition to the tax break, allows donors to remain anonymous – shot up to 3,400 in 2012. The flood of applications overloaded the IRS processing system. It may be wrong that, in order to deal with the mountain of paperwork, the IRS functionaries began culling the applicants by looking for keywords such as “tea party” and “patriot,” but I suspect it had far less to do with political bias than it did with the fact that the majority of new groups were conservative. If someone were running a bogus political operation and wanted to attract corporate cash, they would probably pretend to be some kind of grass-roots tea party group. It is entirely understandable that an overwhelmed IRS bureaucrat would choose to look for questionable applicants in the most obvious places. The fact is that none of the right-wing applicants were turned down, even though they are probably as engaged in partisan campaigning as Karl Rove or Jim Messina. A 501(c)(4) group is, by law, supposed to be a social welfare organization whose primary activity is not politics. Can anyone honestly say that about Rove or Messina or any of the many tea party organizations? Sadly, after this so-called scandal has blown over and enough heads have rolled, the cowed IRS will be even more timid in denying tax-exempt designation to any front organization run by partisan political operatives and funded by corporate moneymen who want to keep their names out of the news.”—
DAVID HORSEY, writing in the Los Angeles Times, “The Real Scandal: IRS Gives Tax Exemptions to Political Partisans.”
The Hollowing Out of Government
The West, Texas chemical and fertilizer plant where at least 15 were killed and more than 200 injured a few weeks ago hadn’t been fully inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration since 1985. (A partial inspection in 2011 had resulted in $5,250 in fines.)
OSHA and its state partners have a total of 2,200 inspectors charged with ensuring the safety of over more than 8 million workplaces employing 130 million workers. That comes to about one inspector for every 59,000 American workers.
There’s no way it can do its job with so few resources, but OSHA has been systematically hollowed out for the years under Republican administrations and congresses that have despised the agency since its inception.
In effect, much of our nation’s worker safety laws and rules have been quietly repealed because there aren’t enough inspectors to enforce them.
That’s been the Republican strategy in general: When they can’t directly repeal laws they don’t like, they repeal them indirectly by hollowing them out — denying funds to fully implement them, and reducing funds to enforce them.
Consider taxes. Republicans have been unable to round up enough votes to cut taxes on big corporations and the wealthy as much as they’d like, so what do they do? They’re hollowing out the IRS. As they cut its enforcement budget – presto! — tax collections decline.
Despite an increasing number of billionaires and multi-millionaires using every tax dodge imaginable – laundering their money through phantom corporations and tax havens (Remember Mitt’s tax returns?) — the IRS’s budget has been cut by 17 percent since 2002, adjusted for inflation.
To manage the $594.5 million in additional cuts required by the sequester, the agency has announced it will furlough each of its more than 89,000 employees for at least five days this year.
This budget stinginess doesn’t save the government money. Quite the opposite. Less IRS enforcement means less revenue. It’s been estimated that every dollar invested in the IRS’s enforcement, modernization and management system reduces the federal budget deficit by $200, and that furloughing 1,800 IRS “policemen” will cost the Treasury $4.5 billion in lost revenue.
But congressional Republicans aren’t interested in more revenue. Their goal is to cut taxes on big corporations and the wealthy.
Representative Charles Boustany, the Louisiana Republican who heads the House subcommittee overseeing the IRS, says the IRS sequester cuts should stay in force. He calls for an overhaul of the tax code instead.
In a similar manner, congressional Republicans and their patrons on Wall Street who opposed the Dodd-Frank financial reform law have been hollowing out the law by making sure agencies charged with implementing it don’t have the funds they need to do the job.
As a result, much of Dodd-Frank – including the so-called “Volcker Rule” restrictions on the kind of derivatives trading that got the Street into trouble in the first place – is still on the drawing boards.
Perhaps more than any other law, Republicans hate the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Yet despite holding more than 33 votes to repeal it, they still haven’t succeeded.
So what do they do? Try to hollow it out. Congressional Republicans have repeatedly denied funding requests to implement Obamacare, leaving Health and Human Services (the agency charged with designing the rules under the Act and enforcing them) so shorthanded it has to delay much of it.
Even before the sequester, the agency was running on the same budget it had before Obamacare was enacted. Now it’s lost billions more.
A new insurance marketplace specifically for small business, for example, was supposed to be up and running in January. But officials now say it won’t be available until 2015 in the 33 states where the federal government will be running insurance markets known as exchanges.
This is a potentially large blow to Obamacare’s political support. A major selling point for the legislation had been providing affordable health insurance to small businesses and their employees.
Yes, and eroding political support is exactly what congressional Republicans want. They fear that Obamacare, once fully implemented, will be too popular to dismantle. So they’re out to delay it as long as possible while keeping up a drumbeat about its flaws.
Repealing laws by hollowing them out — failing to fund their enforcement or implementation — works because the public doesn’t know it’s happening. Enactment of a law attracts attention; de-funding it doesn’t.
The strategy also seems to bolster the Republican view that government is incompetent. If government can’t do what it’s supposed to do – keep workplaces safe, ensure that the rich pay taxes they owe, protect small investors, implement Obamacare – why give it any additional responsibility?
The public doesn’t know the real reason why the government isn’t doing its job is it’s being hollowed out.