Two Democrats on Tuesday suggested that Republican outrage over the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of tea party groups is hypocritical. The Bush administration, they said, went after liberal groups without the same political blowback.
In a House Ways and Means Committee hearing in which representatives from six tea party groups testified about their experiences with the IRS, the question of whether the Obama administration intentionally targeted their political adversaries resulted in a contentious moment between Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington and Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
“The mistake here was that the staff organizing the applications used the names of the groups rather than the work they do -- and asked improper questions to figure that out. It was wrong,” said McDermott, a liberal Democrat, according to his prepared remarks. “But let’s not get lost. During the Bush administration liberal groups were targeted without any concern by Mr. Issa or anyone else in this committee. The Republicans are looking for a conspiracy where there isn’t one. Mr. Issa said he can feel in his gut that someone’s broken the law.”
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., was next up and immediately responded to McDermott’s remarks. “I am going to deviate from my original question in response to what I just heard,” Ryan said to cheers from an audience obviously sympathetic to the witnesses. “Welcome to Washington."
McDermott tried to interrupt Ryan but failed.
Ryan continued: "We heard [George W.] Bush. We had the former IRS commissioner who knew about political targeting long before Congress was told, implying that they were responsible for the targeting because they chose to apply for tax-exempt status? So you are to blame here? Do you think you're targeted based upon your political beliefs, your religious beliefs, or just because you chose to apply?”
Next up was Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who like McDermott argued that the IRS’ actions were not the result of a political plot. “To target a group that applies for tax exempt status based solely on political views is completely unacceptable,” Lewis said. “But let me be clear, it is also a disservice to apply a partisan lens to an issue that concerns all Americans.”
Invoking George W. Bush, Lewis continued: “Since the days of the Bush administration, groups with varying political leanings have been scrutinized. Every person in this room knows this. We must be honest with ourselves and with each other. This has nothing to do with red versus blue. In fact, for the last 10 years, all of the IRS commissioners have been Republican appointees appointed by President George Bush. Between 2004 and 2006, many liberal groups, including [the] NAACP, a progressive church, and an environmental group were targeted by the Bush administration. Where was the outrage then? Where was the sense of righteous indignation?”
On Sunday, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said the IRS was likely following orders from Washington when it selected tea party groups for extra scrutiny, a charge even Republicans have pushed back on. At the end of the hearing a third Democrat, Rep. Joe Crowley of New York, also noted that the IRS "went rogue" under the Bush administration too.