By Bernie Becker and Peter Schroeder - 05/25/13 02:30 PM EDT
GOP lawmakers home for the Memorial Day recess predict they won’t have to do anything to further fan the flames over the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups.
Two weeks after the IRS’s first apology on the matter, Republicans say they’ve only scratched the surface in their investigation of the matter, and believe that June will bring more hearings and developments to keep voters’ attention on the issue.
“In the grocery store,” said Rep. Kevin Brady (Texas), a senior Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee. “At baseball practice.”
The IRS’s treatment of Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status has already kept the full attention of Washington, and the public, for two full weeks – a length of time by which other many other controversies have faded into the background.
But in this case, the Washington media is showing no signs of losing interest, even as new developments – like the update on President Obama’s drone policies and the Oklahoma tornado – keep popping up.
Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, has been pressed repeatedly about the administration’s handling of the IRS matter, especially as the White House’s story appeared to shift by the day earlier this week.
In fact, Republicans on Capitol Hill believe the outrage over the IRS is so deep that they’ve already rolled out new ways to harness it. House Ways and Means unveiled an online form this week where the public can fill out their information and detail their run-ins with the IRS, as part of the panel’s continued investigation into the matter.
With lawmakers out of town, congressional staffers will be pushing to get more documents out of the IRS and to interview agency staffers, as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle continue to question why the IRS targeted certain groups, who authorized it and why they weren’t told sooner.
Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.), the chairman of the House Ways and Means oversight subcommittee, said he expects to be in frequent contact with D.C. aides, at the same time he gets peppered with questions about the issue back home.
“I think there will be a lot of talk about it,” Boustany told reporters. “I’m sure our constituents are going to be very, very interested on this.”
Republicans may be leading the charge on the IRS probe, but the fact that Democrats are outraged as well at the agency’s behavior could help keep the issue front-and-center.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) was also among the first to condemn the targeting when it was revealed and to call for hearings.
Baucus and other Democrats have particularly zeroed in on what they see as subpar management at the higher levels of the IRS, as they highlight that there’s been little evidence so far tying the scandal to the Treasury Department and the White House.
GOP lawmakers may not be on the same page with their Democratic colleagues on that front, but they do eagerly point out that the outrage over the attention given to Tea Party groups has been bipartisan.
“People want the scales to be even. They just do,” Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.), a member of House GOP leadership and a subcommittee chair for the Oversight panel, told The Hill.
“Even liberals and progressives in my district, that kind of like it that the Tea Party got it stuck to them because they don't like the Tea Party know in their heart [that] the next administration could tip it my way.”
Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), another Ways and Means member, said constituents had flooded her office with phone calls and email about their grievances with the IRS – and the federal government in general.
For much of the last two weeks, Republicans have said the IRS case illustrates both the rotten culture encouraged by the Obama administration, and the dangers of a bloated government.
“I am now hearing from companies within my district about not only being audited, but also having other agencies that they've never had come to their business before, one right after the other,” Black said.
With all that in mind, Lankford said the idea that interest in the IRS might fade over the holiday was merely “wishful thinking for the White House.”
“People just don't forget about that stuff in a week,” he said.