It might be recalled that last year the Internal Revenue Service revealed that it had identified several conservative (for the most part) groups applying for tax-exempt status as deserving intense scrutiny and auditing. This led to widespread criticism of the agency and several investigations.
The IRS director of Exempt Organizations at the time was Lois Lerner who, on May 23, 2013, was placed on administrative leave and resigned last fall. Several months ago, the House voted to hold her in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify at a congressional hearing.
One of the remaining big questions is how the IRS lost a treasure trove of emails to and from Lerner as pertaining to matters of application for tax-exempt status. Just last week came the embarrassing and predictable news from The Washington Times and other sources confirming - according to a House committee report - Ms. Lerner's "deep animus toward conservatives." One of her reported references to conservatives involved an unspeakable part of the anatomy.
This adds a little perspective to an opinion piece by The Wall Street Journal's Kimberly A. Strassel, which ran July 24. That article includes the question of how an agency that engaged in various political misconducts can be trusted to implement Obamacare.
The question is further strengthened by a recent D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling (Halbig v. Burwell) "that the administration had illegally provided Obamacare subsidies in 36 insurance exchanges run by the federal government." But it wasn't so much the administration that issued the lawless subsidy gift as its new and most preferred enforcer: The IRS.
According to Strassel, it was entirely political: "Democrats needed those subsidies. The party had assumed that dangling subsidies before the states would induce them to set up exchanges," she writes. But when dozens of states refused (the same 36 referred to above - two-thirds of the country), Strassel contends that the White House realized that there would be a furious political backlash when citizens from all those states came face-to-face with the full cost of Obamacare.
Despite the fact that the IRS is not supposed to meddle with politics, Strassel says the evidence shows that career IRS officials did as they were told by Treasury Department and the Department of Health and Human Services officials - namely, develop regulations around Obamacare subsidies. Whereas officials initially worked in the text (and spirit) of the law that stated subsidies were allowed for "exchanges established by the state," the reference to "Exchanges by the State" would eventually disappear from the draft rule, the column notes.
The Strassel report says emails viewed by congressional investigators show that Treasury and IRS "remained worried they were breaking the law" due to the lack of authority to deem a federally run exchange the equivalent of a state-run exchange.
But rather than analyzing the law, she writes that the IRS sought to take cover for its pre-determined political goal by asking HHS political hires "to cover the tax agency's backside by issuing its own rule" that designated HHS-run exchanges to be state-run exchanges. That happened in July 2011. According to the column, the IRS put forth its own rule providing subsidies to all a month later. That rule was "formalized" in May 2012.
Here's part of the Strassel summary: The IRS "chose to authorize hundreds of billions of illegal subsidies without having performed a smidgen of legal due diligence, and did so at the direction of political taskmasters" from the Department of Treasury and HHS.
Interesting times, these, as the Chinese would say, further complicated by a huge D.C. federal agency not only meddling but going after its opponents as per the dictates of this administration. Imagine that. But I'm confident that at some point, as President Obama's former pastor Jeremiah Wright once reminded us, the chickens are going to come home to roost!
Reach Edward M. Gilbreth at firstname.lastname@example.org.