Lois Lerner, the official at the heart of the controversy of the IRS’s targeting of Tea Party groups, will invoke the Fifth Amendment at this morning’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the scandal:
A top IRS official in the division that reviews nonprofit groups will invoke the Fifth Amendment and refuse to answer questions before a House committee investigating the agency’s improper screening of conservative nonprofit groups.
Lois Lerner, the head of the exempt organizations division of the IRS, won’t answer questions about what she knew about the improper screening – or why she didn’t reveal it to Congress, according to a letter from her defense lawyer, William W. Taylor 3rd.
“She has not committed any crime or made any misrepresentation but under the circumstances she has no choice but to take this course,” said a letter by Taylor to committee Chairman Darrell E. Issa, R-Calif. The letter, sent Monday, was obtained Tuesday by the Los Angeles Times.
Taylor, a criminal defense attorney from the Washington firm of Zuckerman Spaeder, said that the Department of Justice has launched a criminal investigation, and that the House committee has asked Lerner to explain why she provided “false or misleading information” to the committee four times last year.
Since Lerner won’t answer questions, Taylor asked that she be excused from appearing, saying that would “have no purpose other than to embarrass or burden her.”
Perhaps one of the most brilliant things about a free market is law of supply-and-demand. Businesses or financial institutions set a price for their good and/or services based on demand. But Congress often interferes with this basic economic law, often masquerading it as some sort of “victory for consumers.”
And while there are countless instances, last Monday was the birthday of one of the more recent recent examples. Before passing Dodd-Frank — frequently referred to as the “financial reform law” — the Senate added an amendment by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) that capped how much financial institutions could charge for debit card transactions.
Jason Hughey of Americans for Prosperity marked the birthday of this regulation last week, noting that financial institutions are still getting their money, despite having the fee capped. They’re just doing what every other business does when they’re hit with a new regulation — they’re passing the costs along to account holders (emphasis mine):
Before Durbin, banks were charging roughly 44 cents per debit card transaction. In the aftermath of the market crash, congressional leaders thought that this price cap would help struggling consumers.
There have already been a number of stories written on the effects of ObamaCare on many small businesses. Perhaps no enterprise has felt the impacts of the law worse than the restaurant industry.
ObamaCare requires employers with over 50 employees to offer insurance coverage to those who work 30 hours or more, which is considered to be “full-time” under the law, or otherwise pay a $2,000 fine per worker. This is known as the “employer mandate.” Opponents of ObamaCare warned that this mandate would hurt investment and many workers, who would either lose their jobs or face scaled back hours. Supporters of the law obviously didn’t care enough listen.
Last week, the Wall Street Journal highlighted the plight of restaurant franchisees who are struggling to remain profitable as the realities of ObamaCare hit their businesses:
Sam Ballas, chief executive of ECW Enterprises Inc., owner of East Coast Wings & Grill, a 26-unit chain in North Carolina and Texas, in March imposed a three- to five-unit limit, for the time being, on the number of restaurants that franchisees can own, because of worries about health-care costs.
Mr. Ballas said several East Coast Wings franchisees are up against that limit now and that one is considering selling a restaurant to remain below the threshold.
The IRS serving as a political tool isn’t exactly a new concept. The agency has long-been used by administrations to target political and ideological opponents. But the latest incident involving the agency and its target of Tea Party groups has made some pundits to have an epiphany — that government abuses lend weight to concerns over other areas of public policy where sensitive information is obtained.
Citing concerns that expanded background checks would eventually led to a national gun registry, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Mike Lee (R-UT) promised to filibuster a procedural motion to bring the gun control measures to the floor. While they were initially unsuccessful in filibuster, the trio was able to rally enough support to kill the Manchin-Toomey amendment.
Many talking heads slammed those who voted against background checks during last month’s gun control debate in the Senate, but a couple of pundits have realized that maybe opponents of background checks had a point.
Joe Scarborough, host of the MSNBC’s Morning Joe, conceded on Friday that his argument in support of background checks is “less pursuasive today due to these scandals.”
There is little chance that Republicans will lose the House next year. There doesn’t seem to be much worry there. In fact, many Republican strategists believe that they may even pick up a few seats.
What has evaded them over the last two cycles is control of the Senate. Some bad candidates and poorly run races prevented them from gaining seats that they would have otherwise won. And while it’s far from a sure thing, Republicans have a an opening for 2014 that could lead them to a majority in the Senate, according to Nathan Gonzales of the Rothenberg Political Report:
Democrats are defending seven states that President Obama lost in 2012 and Republicans need a net gain of six to reclaim the majority. That also means in the very unlikely event that Democrats somehow knock off Maine Sen. Susan Collins, the only Republican senator up for re-election in an Obama state, the GOP could be in the majority without her by sweeping the Romney states currently held by a Democrat.
Republicans do have to worry about nominating candidates who are less popular than Romney and, in some states, deal with Democratic incumbents who are more popular than President Obama.
But Republicans have considerable room for error.
President Obama lost six of the seven states with a Democratic senator by an average of 19 percentage points. Some of the states were uglier than others for the President, including West Virginia (Obama minus 27 percent), Arkansas (minus 24 percent), South Dakota (minus 18 percent), Louisiana (minus 17 percent), and Alaska and Montana, which he lost both by just under 14 percent.
There are a couple different stories that have brought a twist in the story of the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of Tea Party and conservative groups. Both The New York Times and Washington Post noted that the directives given to lower-leven staffers in the agency’s Cincinnati office came from from management, perhaps even higher.
Here’s excerpt from The New York Times:
During the summer of 2010, the dozen or so accountants and tax agents of Group 7822 of the Internal Revenue Service office in Cincinnati got a directive from their manager. A growing number of organizations identifying themselves as part of the Tea Party had begun applying for tax exemptions, the manager said, advising the workers to be on the lookout for them and other groups planning to get involved in elections.
The Washington Post told a similar story:
“We’re not political,’’ said one determinations staffer in khakis as he left work late Tuesday afternoon. “We people on the local level are doing what we are supposed to do….That’s why there are so many people here who are flustered. Everything comes from the top. We don’t have any authority to make those decisions without someone signing off on them. There has to be a directive.”
There is a reason that President Barack Obama found out about the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of Tea Party and other conservative groups on the news — his senior staff opted not to tell him.
White House lawyers were told about the Treasury Department’s investigation into the politically-motivatived targeting of the groups in April. During the daily press briefing yesterday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney admitted that senior staff also knew about the investigation, but decided not to tell President Obama because they wanted to wait for the final report:
With the knowledge of an investigation, the White House held to a “cardinal rule” that it should not get involved in an external investigation, Carney said during his daily briefing. “No one in this building intervened in an ongoing independent investigation or did anything that could be seen as intervening,” he said.
“To the chagrin of some who would have liked us to get more in front of this, we appropriately waited,” Carney later added.
Though senior staff knew of the probe, Carney said [White House counsel Kathy] Ruemmler concluded that the investigation was “not a matter she should convey to the president” until the report was finalized.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” — First Amendment
Those words are straightforward. The right to free speech was respected so fervently that the framers of the Constitution saw fit to ensure that it was a constitutionally guaranteed right.
Sadly, that fundamental civil liberty was threatened last week when it was revealed that the Justice Department had subpoenaed phone records of reporters at the Associated Press (AP), an action that the news agency’s president said was “unconstitutional.”
It appears that this scandal is worse than was previously feared. The Washington Post reported on Sunday that James Rosen, Washington correspondent at Fox News, was the target of a Justice Department investigation in 2010.
This is pretty creepy:
When the Justice Department began investigating possible leaks of classified information about North Korea in 2009, investigators did more than obtain telephone records of a working journalist suspected of receiving the secret material.
Glenn Jacobs, perhaps better known as the wrestler “Kane” from WWE, may be considering a primary challenge to Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN).
Jacobs, who identifies philosophically as a libertarian and supported both of Ron Paul’s presidential campaigns, has made waves recently by challenging Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, a Republican, to a debate over the online sales tax. On Thursday, however, Brian Doherty noted at Reason that Jacobs is weighng a primary bid against Alexander next year:
Still pure rumor mill for now, but sources close to the one-time World Heavyweight Champion World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) superstar (among many other wrestling honors) who goes by the name “Kane” tell me that Glenn Jacobs (Kane’s legal name) is “open to the possibility of considering a primary campaign against Sen. Lamar Alexander” for the Tennessee Senate seat Lamar! has held since 2003.
That’s a whole lot of caveats and no announcement from the man himself, but it would be one of the more delightful GOP primary battles for the libertarian-minded to watch.
Jacobs, a resident of Knoxvill, Tennessee, has contributed commentary to LewRockwell.com, a website that frequently promotes paleo-conservative and libertarian economic theories. This free market point-of-view could be appealing to many Republican primary voters.
By now, we’re all familiar with the scandal that has plauged the Internal Revenue Service and the Obama Administration. Many questions are left to answered, and there is some hope that we will discover more on Wednesday when the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will question Douglas Shulman, former head of the IRS.
Some Americans may be asking themselves how the IRS got stuck with such inept leadership — it is, after all, a government agency, but that’s a topic for another post. The answer may lie with former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA).
Ike Brannon, a senior fellow and director of research at the R Street Institute, tells the story of how Santorum’s temper and objection to the removal of a tax deduction on charitable giving lead to the Senate passing on Dean Zerbe, who was slated to be come the nominee for the top post at the IRS:
When it came time to replace the retiring IRS commissioner in 2007, Senator Charles Grassley, ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, offered up one of his senior staffers on the committee by the name of Dean Zerbe.
The president’s people had no real objection to the choice: Zerbe had been on the committee for a long time, and he was considered a tax code savant as well as a shrewd lawyer, albeit one with sharp elbows. But the elbows hit the ribs of people on both sides of the aisle because Zerbe was very aggressive (at his boss’s behest) at rooting out tax dodges and finding ways to raise revenue without increasing taxes.