The IRS Is Drunk With Power

It’s time to rein in the out-of-control agency.


The party is over for the Internal Revenue Service. After spending $50 million on 220 conferences between 2010 and 2012, Americans are outraged by the misuse of taxpayers' funds to support their line dancing lessons and expensive hotel rooms. The Inspector General's report also detailed how the IRS spent $60,000 to produce "Star Trek" and "Gilligan's Island" themed training videos and paid $135,000 in fees to outside speakers.   One wonders what the themes of these talks were: "How to persecute conservatives from the comfort of your luxury suite?" or "How to stop write offs of luxury items while at the spa at the Ritz Carlton?"

Over the last five years, Americans have taken less vacation time and have found other ways to tighten their belts, but IRS employees are spending money while staying in expensive presidential hotel suites. The reprehensible actions of the IRS in its handling of tea party groups, the stewardship of its own budget and the fears of what they will do to us with the expansive power of Obamacare, have joined together to make tax reform a real possibility.

On the IRS website, they claim to be one of the world's most efficient tax administrators.  The IRS officials might know how to collect taxes, but surely know how to misspend the funds. The officials who testified in Congress this week have failed to provide adequate responses for their lavish spending.

[See a collection of editorial cartoons on the IRS Scandal.]

Those who have worked in government, corporations or nonprofits have likely attended an office retreat or conference to regroup, connect with work colleagues and discuss the goals for the upcoming year. These conferences may help to rekindle office relationships or refocus on an organization's mission. However, the IRS conferences follow a pattern of excessive spending and waste and demonstrate that they have little sensitivity on how tough it has been for Americans during this deep economic downturn. Democrats and Republicans on the Hill are furious. They have finally found something they can agree on:  this agency is drunk with power and probably too big and unwieldy to properly oversee.

While the commissioner for IRS' Small Business and Self-Employment Division, Faris Fink, who approved the expenses and appeared in the "Star Trek" video apologized during a House oversight committee meeting, his apology is not enough. In fact, the outrage continues to grow. The American people have seen this outfit for what it is and they don't like it one bit. They expect the president to step up and lead on so many issues, and this is the latest one where he seems to be performing a two-step.

President Obama and his administration are suffering a credibility issue and are under increasing pressure to respond to the IRS transgressions. In the most recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, 55 percent of Americans believe that the targeting conservative organizations, essentially political opponents while running for re-election, raises doubts about the "overall honesty and integrity of the Obama administration."

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

Selecting a new nonpartisan IRS commissioner would be a first step, but President Obama also needs to continue to reassure the American people that his administration is working to rein in the IRS. However the relative silence of President Obama is an indication that he is worried that the rallying cry of his presidency – Obamacare – is actually in a precarious position as it will be housed at the IRS. I would love to see the old television show they use for the Obamacare training video: the IRS would probably pick "Grey's Anatomy" whereas we all know a better choice would be "Six Feet Under."

This week leaders of conservative groups also testified in Congress and shared their stories of intimidation and how they were unfairly scrutinized because of their political or religious beliefs. They explained how the IRS released donor details to opposing groups and placed high demands on conservative organizations. 

The IRS scandal is a telling tale of a government that has forgotten the fundamental principles of our nation and our First Amendment to the Constitution, which allows each of us to express our freedom of speech and to advocate for our beliefs.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

Unfortunately, our country has become so politically polarized that one side routinely attempts to destroy and discredit the other. This mentality has infiltrated into the IRS and other parts of the administration. It reminds me of when my father would tell me stories of his life under the Castro regime in Cuba back in the 1960s where an anti-Castro activist could not even trust his neighbor because he feared retaliation by the Castro government. We should not have to experience the fear of intimidation or retaliation in the United States.

These scandals have brought discredit to this administration and have made us all question why we give so much power to government, when they get it wrong so often.  The only good thing that can come out of all of this is a dramatic recast of how and why we collect income taxes in this country by passing bipartisan tax reform. And while we are at it, let's rethink giving the IRS even more authority in our lives through their dominance in the implementation of Obamacare.

  • Read Susan Milligan: Americans Should Blame Congress, Not Obama, for Phone Data Collection
  • Read Peter Roff: Eric Holder, Fox News and the Assault on the First Amendment
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