The Republican story is changing fast. The first story was that the provision was inserted into the tax bill by an unknown staffer. This was then amended to, it was a mistake. After keeping silent for most of a day and allowing the buck to be passed around, a congressman admitted that the provision was inserted at his direct request, but tried to minimize the implications of the provision.
Representative Ernest Istook, Republican of Oklahoma, who was responsible for the insertion of the tax provision..., issued a statement on Sunday saying that the language had actually been drafted by the Internal Revenue Service and that "nobody's privacy was ever jeopardized." Mr. Istook is chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that has authority over the I.R.S. budget.
John D. Scofield, the spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee, said that the purpose of the provision was to allow investigators for the top lawmakers responsible for financing the I.R.S. to have access to that agency's offices around the country and tax records so they could examine how the money was being spent. There was never any desire to look at anyone's tax returns, he said.
Is that what the provision says? Let's take a look at the exact wording of the provision:
Hereinafter, notwithstanding any other provision of law governing the disclosure of income tax returns or return information, upon written request of the Chairman of the House or Senate Committee on Appropriations, the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service shall allow agents designated by such Chairman access to Internal Revenue Service facilities and any tax returns or return information contained therein.
Istook's spokesman claims the provision allows them access to IRS offices to audit the books. The text of the provision allows them access to IRS offices "and any tax returns or return information contained therein." I am neither a lawyer nor a tax expert, but this sure looks to me like they can look at anybody's tax returns for any purpose they want. Today they are claiming it's just for clean government and tomorrow I'm sure they'll claim it's to fight terrorism, because, you know, congressional staffers are our first line of defense in the war to defend freedom.
Istook was caught with his fingers in the constitutional cookie jar and if we let this one die just because it's almost a holiday, we deserve whatever happens to us.