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Senate hearings into IRS abuses

I guess I should be grateful that the U.S. Senate is going to hold three whole days of hearings into abuses by the Internal Revenue Service. I just can’t help but think this little exercise may be a misguided effort that will obscure far worse systematic offenses — perhaps even impeachable conduct politically directed by the White House.

Majority Leader Trent Lott told ABC News the Senate Finance Committee will hold three days of public hearings later this month that will reveal abuses the American people will find shocking.

I doubt it. The American people are well-acquainted with the tactics of intimidation, harassment and coercion employed by the IRS. They could probably tell Lott a few things.

Sam Donaldson was surprised, though. In a report last week he told the story of Stanley McGill, a senile 93-year-old, who overpaid his taxes to the tune of $7,000. The IRS took the money, of course. When he died, his daughter asked for the money back. Even though the IRS agreed that the money had not been owed to the government, the agency has refused to refund it to McGill’s estate.

He told another horror story of a tax-preparation company under investigation by the IRS. The agency put pressure on employees to testify. Five who refused were audited. Two who testified were not.

“But the real shocker in the hearings, according to Senator Lott, will be allegations that such abuse is actually encouraged by agency officials,” reported Donaldson.

Again, this may be news to ABC, it won’t be to the American people. So, what’s the point of the hearings? What do the senators plan to do to curtail such abuses? And will there be any examination of motivation and political manipulation? Don’t hold your breath for the answers. This looks like one more sideshow orchestrated by a Republican Senate without a direction, without an agenda.

You have to wonder what Lott is doing. Here he is with a Republican majority in both the Senate and House for the first time in decades. He’s in charge. Yet, he acts like he’s waging the equivalent of a political guerrilla war — hitting and running, rather than actually changing the direction of the government.

Is this just a political bone Lott is throwing to conservatives who have grown frustrated with his leadership? Does he think those responsible for elevating him to his lofty position will be satisfied if he just continues to complain about government abuses and doesn’t actually stop them?

Almost a year ago, the Joint Committee on Taxation launched another high-profile investigation into IRS abuses. This probe was supposed to determine whether the IRS has been auditing certain non-profit groups for political reasons. To date, not a single hearing has been held, not a single witness interviewed, despite the fact that, in some cases, these examinations are still under way.

The stated reason for the delay was the time-consuming budget reconciliation process. You have to wonder what’s holding things up now. Have these guys ever heard of finishing one job before moving on to another?

The kinds of abuses described by Lott and Donaldson, while certainly egregious, are hardly new. In fact, they’ve been going on since the income tax was initiated. What is new in this administration is the willful targeting of groups and individuals who have opposed or criticized the White House. This, in other words, is political dynamite — which is probably why Congress is scared to examine it.

Call me a skeptic, but I don’t think any meaningful reforms will come out of three days of hearings into IRS abuses. The purpose of public hearings is two-fold: (1) to investigate the facts, and (2) to inform the American people of the abuses in hopes of gaining public sympathy for some action to correct them.

It appears that Lott already believes he is in command of the facts about IRS abuses. He will also find the American people fear this agency like, perhaps, no other arm of the federal government. So what’s the point? Why not move on and take the corrective action?

If the Congress acted — boldly and assertively — it would find that the American people would enthusiastically support such efforts. In fact, Congress would be politically incapable of acting too strongly in curbing the abuses of this runaway agency. The people are way ahead of elected officials on this issue. Republicans and Democrats would cheer wildly a straightforward move to abolish the IRS — to replace the complicated tax code with a simplified flat tax, or an even more radical plan to eliminate the income tax altogether.

So, enough political posturing, already. Take some action.