For the first time, Democrats in Washington are pushing back publicly against suggestions that IRS abuses in Cincinnati and elsewhere are the result of a partisan vendetta. Their heated remarks are coming as more Tea Party leaders testified on Tuesday in front of Congress.
Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Washington State) told the panel it was "foolish account management" on the part of the IRS that led to the use of keywords like "Tea Party" and "9/12" to flag applications for tax-exempt status. He told the conservative group leaders at the witness table that if they'd never asked for what he called a "tax break," they never would've had to answer questions from the IRS.
"So you're to blame, I guess, is the message here," shot back Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), the former Republican nominee for vice president, when it was his turn to speak.
"Mr. Chairman?" McDermott could be heard saying, trying to interject before Ryan scored his rhetorical point.
Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia) later added to what McDermott said, asking why alleged targeting of progressive groups during the George W. Bush Administration wasn't investigated.
"Where was the outrage then?" Lewis, the famed civil right leader, asked. "Where was the sense of righteous indignation?"
Several times today, witnesses testifying before the House Ways and Means Committee were brought to tears as they recalled the questions IRS employees demanded they answer.
"I'm telling my government you've forgotten your place," an emotional Becky Gerritson told the members of Congress in front of her. She added that it's "not your place to monitor my speech."
Gerritson is a leader of the Wetumpka Tea Party in Alabama. She formed her group after Pres. Bush and Pres. Obama launched bailouts during the Great Recession.
Democrats on the committee acknowledged the IRS treated conservative groups unfairly. But they sought to distance the IRS from the Obama White House. Republicans, Rep. McDermott claimed, "are looking for a conspiracy where there isn't one."
On Thursday, the House Oversight Committee will ask the IRS to justify $49 million allegedly spent on conferences, hotels rooms and video presentations during the timeframe of the targeting. Two of those conferences in question happened in Cincinnati.
According to the Inspector General's report, the agency spent $307,000 in 2010 on a conference at the Millennium Hotel in downtown Cincinnati. In addition, $63,000 were spent on a leadership conference at the Gateway Center.