It didn't take long for the IRS scandal to metastasize. Last week, the mid-level bureaucrat at the center of the mushrooming affair, Lois Lerner, invoked her constitutional right to avoid self-incrimination. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the public should draw no inference from her refusal to testify about the “outrageous IRS targeting of Americans for their political beliefs.”
Right. “What's she hiding?” Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) told Politico. “The American people demand and deserve answers.” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) set the tone by demanding before the first hearing that someone go to jail.
The Obama administration did little better in its effort to avoid getting bogged down in multiple congressional investigations. The president dispatched Attorney General Eric Holder to launch his own investigation even though IRS officials testified under oath that there had been no communications between the White House and the IRS, which was also the finding of the Treasury's inspector general.
So what does any of this have to do with healthcare reform, you may be asking? Last week, I called the head of the scrupulously nonpartisan Tax Policy Center in Washington to see if the scandal would have any impact on the IRS' ability to carry out its role in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. His answer: “I don't know.”
That's a disturbing response. The IRS' entire mission—collecting taxes—depends on the American people's faith in its ability to carry out the law in a fair and evenhanded manner. If it loses its credibility, the rollout of healthcare reform is doomed.
Let us count the ways the IRS will be crucial to carrying out the law.
The IRS will be responsible for determining household income and eligibility for insurance subsidies on the state and federal exchanges, as well as imposing a tax on people who fail to buy insurance.