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Redwood Falls Gazette
  • Philip Maddocks: Lawmakers say insulting IRS will get them answers they want

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  • At a press conference that turned into a shouting match on Thursday, lawmakers said they are almost certain that if they keep bellowing insults at Internal Revenue Service administrators at Congressional hearings, they will eventually get the answers they are looking for.
    But as reporters pressed the congressmen to explain how interrupting the testimony of the IRS commissioner before he could answer their questions helped advance the investigation, the press conference grew testy, with Republicans on the panel accusing the reporters of “obstruction” and “deceit.”
    “Sitting here listening to this line of questioning, I don’t believe it,” Rep. Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, barked at the phalanx of reporters who had gathered at the Capitol Building entrance for the pugnacious question and answer session. “That’s your problem. No one believes you. That’s not my problem because I ran the Boston Marathon in two hours and 20 minutes.”
    “You shout questions at us all the time, but when we raise our voices just a bit at a Congressional hearing, you get all righteous about it? Well I have news for you. This is my indoor voice now! So get over it!” Mr. Ryan added.
    Democrats who were at the press conference repeatedly objected to being interrupted by Republicans before they could answer reporters’ questions and soon began raising their voices at Mr. Ryan, setting off a cascade of Congressional invective.
    “For him to take the oath of office and then start shouting people down - that is not the way this committee has functioned at a press conference in the past, and it ought not to be the way we function going forward,” bellowed Rep. Richard E. Neal, Democrat of Massachusetts, drowning out the insults of Mr. Ryan and Rep. Dave Camp, the committee’s chairman, who had begun accusing Democrats of “a Watergate-style cover-up, abuse of power and jealousy over Mr. Ryan’s running times.
    Relations between Democrats and Republicans and lawmakers and the press have become particularly antagonistic in recent years, and all that animosity seemed to boil over last week during a Congressional hearing examining how the Internal Revenue Service lost thousands of emails sought by investigators.
    Republicans on the panel accused the IRS commissioner, John Koskinen, of lying. Democrats accused Republicans of mounting a “witch hunt” meant to create the appearance of a conspiracy during an election year. And both parties accused the press of not doing enough to make the other shut up.
    Mr. Ryan, in defending the panel’s choice to hurl invective at those testifying at the hearing, pointed to a report – the author of it was unclear - which concluded that while agency employees are generally entitled to respect it is not beyond the proper powers of the committee to use slurs, slights and rudeness to make a point.
    Page 2 of 2 - He also said the disclosure of such frank animosity was not indicative of a loss of impartiality or temper.
    “I don’t know where the press or Democrats get such ideas,” Mr. Ryan yelled. “I’d urge anyone with a Level 3 clearance to read this report so they understand what I’m shouting about.”
    Several of the Democrats, while defending Mr. Ryan’s use of Congressional discourtesy, still felt uncomfortable being part an inquiry meant to create the appearance of a quid pro quo during an election year. Some of them, instead, thought it might be in their and the American public’s interest to shout down some of the Republican questioners so as to at least restore a shred of dignity to the proceedings.
    Republican lawmakers responded to the statements from Democrats with incredulity, questioning rather loudly whether their counterparts across the aisle had lost their good sense and accusing them of a Nixonian cover-up.
    Several Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee said that both Democrats and the IRS had lost credibility because of repeated denials that they claimed turned out to be wrong.
    “If they have something to say about that, then they should speak up,” howled Rep. Darrell Issa, a Republican of California
    Despite what he called the IRS’ stonewalling, Mr. Camp said the panel’s loud display was starting to bear fruit.
    “Over three years ago, this committee started shouting at the IRS, and what is it that we have learned?” he snarled. “We have learned that if you don’t speak up, no one will hear you. Well, I’ll tell you what, people are hearing us now.”
    Philip Maddocks writes a weekly satirical column. He can be reached at pmaddocks@wickedlocal.com.

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