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President Punts on IRS

by Boston Herald editorial staff     •     Boston Herald

Not Smidgen Obama IRSBecause there’s a looser vibe on late-night talk shows perhaps President Obama felt free to play looser than usual with the facts. But his characterization of the IRS scandal during an appearance on Jon Stewart’s show this week isn’t as easily laughed away as it may have been by the audience.

Yes, the president tried to rewrite a bit of embarrassing history, chalking up the IRS targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status as the simple fallout from a “crummy” law enacted by Congress.

“When there was that problem with the IRS, everyone jumped … saying, ‘Look, you’ve got this back office, and they’re going after the Tea Party’ ” Obama told Stewart. “Well, it turned out, no, Congress had passed a crummy law that didn’t give people guidance in terms of what it was they were trying to do. They did it poorly and stupidly.”

“Back office”? As was widely reported, the guidance to single out Tea Party and other conservative groups for extra scrutiny apparently came from the IRS in Washington.

Beyond that, the idea that Lois Lerner, who was head of the tax-exempt office, and her colleagues simply didn’t have the proper guidance required to vet applications — and that it was not their fault, but the fault of Congress — is, like an episode of Stewart’s show, laugh-out-loud funny.

The law exempting nonprofit groups from taxation has been around since the 1950s, but only after the proliferation of conservative 501(c)4 groups did it become “crummy”?

The president elicited more laughs by adding that the “real scandal” is that the IRS has been so poorly funded “that they cannot go after these folks who are deliberately avoiding tax payments.” So … they had to fall back on ideology?

In 2013, after the IRS inspector general confirmed the use of inappropriate criteria in vetting applications for tax-exempt status, the president was resolute.

“Regardless of how this conduct was allowed to take place,” he said then, “the bottom line is, it was wrong.”

Today he’s singing an entirely different tune.