Remember the IRS "scandal"? The one the political world took extremely seriously for about six weeks, right up until the entire thing devolved into a big nothingburger? Conservatives who had high hopes for the story have been forced to concede there just isn't much left, and every allegation raised by Republicans from the outset has been discredited.
But the right's contempt for the IRS hasn't diminished in the slightest, and GOP lawmakers' vendetta against the tax agency is just getting started.
House Republicans are pushing legislation that would slash the IRS's budget by $3 billion for its "inappropriate actions" in targeting political groups.The bill would place several additional restrictions on spending at the embattled agency and prohibit employees from implementing the individual mandate in ObamaCare.
These are actually two related-but-distinct ideas that are being put into one "We Hate The IRS" piece of legislation. The former, punishing the IRS for "inappropriate actions" by slashing its budget really doesn't make any sense, since there's no evidence the tax agency actually targeted anyone for partisan or ideological reasons.
The latter is arguably more interesting, since it's long been a demand pushed by some of the more unhinged Tea Party activists -- GOP lawmakers can still sabotage the federal health care system if they'd only prohibit the IRS from enforcing the individual mandate. (Jonathan Cohn recently explained why this is "laughable.")
The same bill, incidentally, includes a variety of related punishments, including empowering Americans to secretly record phone conversations with IRS employees, as a way of discouraging officials from saying something inappropriate.
But the larger point to keep in mind is the House Republicans' punish-the-IRS bill won't become law anyway. It, like the party's culture-war proposals, is intended to give the right warm and fuzzy feelings, even though GOP officials realize it can't pass. In this case, it also serves the purpose of trying to breathe life into a discredited "scandal," with Republicans hoping the public hasn't heard that the IRS controversy has already evaporated into meaninglessness.
It's reached the point at which fans of the former "scandal" can't even hide their desperation.
In an interview with Breitbart News published on Sunday, [Republican Rep. Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania], a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, which has been investigating the agency, said he expected the leak of applications for tax-exempt status will become the "deeper part" of the story."I think what we're going to find out and I think that the deeper part is not so much the Tea Party and the 'Patriot' and those people who were targeted, but the information that has been leaked," Kelly said.
This is what the controversy has been reduced to. Groups weren't targeted, the IRS wasn't being used as a political weapon, there were no enemies lists, everything Republicans said for six weeks turned out to be wrong, but according to Rep. Mike Kelly, the "deeper part" of the story is that some of the tax-exempt applications came to the public's attention.
Remember, 2013 is, in theory, supposed to be a governing year -- it follows a national election, with midterms still over a year away. But when post-policy lawmakers dominate the House, governing remains a pipe dream.