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The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz

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Politicians who limit the effectiveness of government agencies for short-term political advantages cheat taxpayers and short-change the government. I first met Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a brash young Republican, at a gathering of EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center), which challenges invasions of privacy by big business and government. Privacy was not the only issue he championed, having taken stands against corporate welfare programs, bloated corporate contracts with the government and even corporate crimes.

Chaffetz chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee – a body with powerful tools to investigate government waste, corruption and defiance of the laws. And he has vaulting ambitions, almost running for Speaker of the House last year with only seven years of seniority.

My colleagues and I met with him and his staff soon after he took over the Committee. We seemed to have found common ground on some important matters, including pressing for full online disclosure of government contracts and leaseholds with private business (above a minimum dollar amount).

Presently, taxpayers can only view a summary of these contracts, which total hundreds of billions of dollars a year. Government procurement reforms seemed an ideal subject for a left/right alliance in Congress.

At our meeting I expressed the hope that Congressman Chaffetz would not imitate his predecessor, Congressman Darrell Issa, the mega-millionaire show-boater who reveled in mostly useless partisan hacking of Obama’s executive branch.

Alas, no such luck. Instead of doing something about the Pentagon’s violation, since 1992, of a federal law requiring annual audits–a law with which every other federal agency complies–he left that massive, nearly $600 billion budget to continue to be mired in waste, redundancy and corporate corruption.

Instead of amassing all the government’s corporate welfare programs and analyzing them to determine what should be cut or kept, he has avoided doing anything about the crony capitalism that his fellow Republicans routinely denounce but do nothing about.

So what is self-minimizing Congressman Chaffetz’s principal passion? Trying to impeach, censure or cause the resignation of the head of the IRS, the renowned turnaround specialist John Koskinen. The Utah Roman candle has accused Koskinen of interfering with a congressional investigation, not preserving pertinent records and lying to a congressional committee.

Koskinen repeatedly provided the committee with documentation for his denial of the charges that he was engaged in a cover-up of alleged IRS harassment of Tea Party and other conservative 501(c)(4) organizations applying for tax-exempt status. Ranking minority member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) laid out his own rebuttals, citing the Department of Justice investigation finding that “no evidence that any IRS official acted in a way that would support criminal prosecution” or that any official, including Mr. Koskinen, an Obama appointee, attempted to obstruct justice.

More telling was the exhaustive, multi-year, $2 million investigation by the Republican Inspector General of the IRS, Russell George, who cleared the IRS Commissioner of the Chaffetz Committee’s charges. Mr. George, a Bush appointee, found no politically motivating targeting of these conservative 501(c)(4) applications, no obstruction of justice and no concealing of information from Congress. Some bureaucratic sloppiness, sure, but that was all.

A more cutting judgement came from Law Professor Richard Painter, former Chief Ethics Lawyer for President George W. Bush, who said “this is essentially a dispute between the IRS and Members of Congress about the 501(c)(4) organizations that further the objectives of political campaigns, including campaigns for Members of Congress.”

Legal observers say Chaffetz’s resolution is not legally binding and is going nowhere. So what’s going on here is the Chaffetz caper is part of an overwhelming attack on the IRS by the Congressional Republicans–an attack that has turned them into major aiders and abettors of those who are sitting on $300 billion in annual uncollected taxes.

Figuring that the IRS is about the least popular agency in the government, the Republicans have repeatedly cut its seriously inadequate budget from $12.8 billion in 2013 to $10.6 billion this year, with several consequences. You pay more when corporate tax escapees and others do not pay what they owe. Or the deficit gets larger. Or you receive fewer or diminished public services. You are also wasting endless hours trying to get through to the staff-depleted IRS on the telephone with your questions.

The Democrats in Congress somehow cannot get themselves to make the Republicans pay a political price for the reckless strip-mining of the already inadequate IRS budget, further burdened by new laws like Obamacare.

The agency simply doesn’t have enough specialists to investigate global corporate tax evasion; the super-wealthy’s use of the tax havens like Panama and the Cayman Islands, not to mention many phony deferrals, or unlawful exploitations of tax loopholes.

The Congressional Republicans are complicit in shielding $300 million in tax evasion. Were it not for their immunity on Capitol Hill, they could be indicted for a conspiracy to protect big-time tax evaders. Every million dollars in the IRS enforcement budget brings in at least $6 million in revenue.

You as voters can call members of Congress out this November, unless your Republican Lawmaker comes clean and rejects the Party’s wrecking machine.

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Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

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