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IRS tea party scandal is 'un-American' and a 'travesty,' lawmakers fume

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are vowing to hold people accountable and explore legislative changes to ensure the IRS mends its ways after singling out tea party and other conservative groups.

By Staff writer / May 13, 2013

The exterior of the Internal Revenue Service building in shown Washington in March.

Susan Walsh/AP/File

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Capitol Hill is awash with bipartisan condemnation of the Internal Revenue Service’s acknowledged targeting of conservative advocacy groups, as lawmakers in both chambers gear up to investigate. They’ll be looking into not only whom to hold accountable, but also what legislative changes are necessary to restore integrity to the tax man that Americans already love to loathe.

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“The IRS,” said Sen. Max Baucus (D) of Montana, chair of the Finance Committee, in a statement, “will now be the ones put under additional scrutiny.”

Both Senator Baucus and House Ways and Means chair Dave Camp (R) of Michigan have vowed to investigate the matter through their committees.

Sen. Carl Levin (D) of Michigan, chair of a subcommittee on investigations that has long been concerned about political groups of all stripes using nonprofit status for tax cover, promised to broaden its inquiries into “whether the IRS, to the extent it has enforced its rules, has been impartial in doing so.”

Senator Levin and the subcommittee's ranking member, Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, released a joint statement Monday saying they would delay a planned hearing on tax-exempt groups to factor in the IRS's recent developments.

Thus far, promises to figure out exactly what happened at the IRS, and under whose watch, amount to Congress’s practical response to the revelations that emerged late last week. Since 2011, the IRS said, employees in its Cincinnati field office targeted hundreds of groups with conservative-sounding names or with particular words like “tea party” in the title for extra scrutiny before allowing the organizations to claim tax-exempt status.

What’s key, lawmakers say, is not just assigning blame: It’s figuring out how to ensure that an agency whose errant behavior raises heady constitutional and political questions actually mends its ways.

“Although I am happy that it has finally admitted to placing politics over policy, the IRS owes conservative groups far more than a mere apology for their unfair treatment. It is crystal clear that additional safeguards are in order to prevent this obtrusive behavior in the future,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R) of Ohio in a statement.

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