Finance chairman vows investigation into IRS

The Senate Finance Committee will investigate the Internal Revenue Service over its scrutiny of Tea Party groups, the panel's chairman said Monday.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), whose powerful committee has jurisdiction over taxes, called the IRS’s actions an “outrageous abuse of power and a breach of the public’s trust.” He said “targeting groups based on their political views is not only inappropriate but it is intolerable.”

“Americans expect the IRS to do its job without passion or prejudice,” Baucus said. “We need to get to the bottom of what happened here.”

The chairman’s statement comes just days before the Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration is expected to release an audit on the IRS’s treatment of Tea Party groups.

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A timeline from that audit, which The Hill obtained from congressional staff, shows that the IRS began searching for requests including “Tea Party” and “patriots” as early as March 2010 – two full years before agency officials told Congress that the IRS wasn’t targeting any specific group.

“The American people have questions for the IRS, and I intend to get answers,” Baucus said. “I want to review the Inspector General’s report first, but the IRS should be prepared for a full investigation into this matter by the Senate Finance Committee. The IRS will now be the ones put under additional scrutiny.”

Baucus is just one of several Democratic senators to call for an investigation of the IRS’s actions, and he now joins top House Republicans in suggesting that hearings on the issue are forthcoming.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in a tweet on Monday said he was "very troubled" by the IRS's possible breach of public trust. 

"Targeting any group based on its political stance is completely inappropriate," said Reid, who added he supported Baucus's efforts.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), who has been working with Baucus for months on tax reform, and Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who requested the inspector general report, have either vowed or suggested that hearings are forthcoming.

“I am very concerned about allegations the IRS targeted certain groups seeking tax-exempt status on political grounds, including a Virginia-based organization," Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said in a Monday statement.

"There’s no excuse for ideological discrimination in our system. The administration should take swift action to get to the bottom of this to ensure those responsible for misconduct are held accountable and establish appropriate safeguards to prevent this from ever happening again."

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) also said the president should condemn the targeting, and that there should be a congressional investigation “to determine how this happened and to prevent this from ever happening again."

"The actions of the IRS are unacceptable and un-American. Government agencies using their bureaucratic muscle to target Americans for their political beliefs cannot be tolerated," Manchin said. "The president must immediately condemn this attack on our values, find those individuals in his administration who are responsible and fire them.

On Sunday, White House secretary Jay Carney said President Obama was "concerned" about the IRS's focus on the groups.

This story was updated at 1:01 p.m.