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An expensive search for a fake scandal
The IRS 'scandal' was discredited months ago. So why are House Republicans spending $14 million on it?
By Steve Benen
But as Congress' lower chamber stops thinking about legislating and starts focusing solely on elections, real priorities are replaced with political stunts.
A House committee is planning a showdown next week with a former Internal Revenue Service official who declined to answer questions last year about agency targeting of tea-party groups. The former official, Lois Lerner, appeared at a contentious hearing House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last May, soon after news broke that the IRS had targeted grassroots conservative groups for special scrutiny as they sought tax-exempt status.
As we've discussed on more than a few occasions, there's just no point to any of this -- unless your goal is to produce a few fundraising letters and keep confused activists motivated for the fall.
Congress has looked into the allegations and found nothing. The FBI has looked into the allegations and found nothing. Investigative journalists have looked into the allegations and found nothing. The story was discredited months ago.
But all of this raises a related question: exactly how much money are congressional Republicans spending investigating a "scandal" that doesn't exist?
This morning, Reps. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the Ranking Members of the House Ways and Means Committee and Oversight and Government Reform Committee, respectively, issued a document intended to put a price tag on the GOP's efforts. Based on the IRS's own review, the investigation has cost $14 million.
[This includes] $8 million in direct costs -- such as salaries, benefits, and travel -- and an additional $6 million to $8 million to add capacity to information technology systems to process materials to investigators. The IRS letter, which was sent in response to a request from Levin and Cummings on February 7, 2014, stated that 255 IRS employees have spent 97,542 hours responding to congressional investigations to date. It also said the IRS cost estimate is based on a "conservative approach" and does not take into account "ancillary support costs," such as indirect work by the offices of Legislative Affairs, Public Affairs, Human Capital, and the Executive Secretariat.
As of this week, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen also concluded that 255 agency employees have logged almost 100,000 hours in accommodating congressional inquiries in this matter.
And with House Republicans eager to keep the charade going, the amount of wasted resources will continue to grow.