Last week, the agency got in trouble over revelations that it had applied special scrutiny to conservative and Tea Party groups. Essentially, the IRS discriminated against organizations with words like "Tea Party" and "Patriot" in their names when they were applying for 501(c)4 nonprofit status. Lois Lerner, head of the division on tax-exempt organizations, issued a formal apology, calling the agency's actions "absolutely incorrect" and "inappropriate."
Republicans are not mollified. On MSNBC's Morning Joe, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called the IRS's behavior "almost madness," and used it to attack ObamaCare, asking, "Why would you trust the bureaucracy with your health, if you can't trust the bureaucracy with your politics?"
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) called the incident "absolutely chilling," and said that it "contributes to the profound distrust that the American people have in government."
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, called for a full investigation on the matter. "The bottom line is they used key words to go after conservatives," Issa said on NBC's Meet the Press. "There's got to be accountability for people who did it and who were telling lies about it being done."
On ABC's This Week, George Will went as far as to read the articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon. And while talk of impeaching Obama over the IRS's bad behavior might not be realistic, it could certainly help whip up anger toward Obama.
To that end, The New York Times' Nate Silver predicted on Twitter that the GOP could benefit big from the scandal in 2014:
IRS story seems like a potential goldmine for GOP base turnout at midterms.
— Nate Silver (@fivethirtyeight) May 13, 2013
"For Republicans, this will be the gift that keeps on giving," Todd Harris, adviser to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), told The Washington Post. "There won't be a GOP campaign in the country that doesn't use this to raise money."
Democrats are already pushing back. At The Daily Beast, liberal columnist Michael Tomasky argues that Republicans will do everything they can to tie the IRS scandal to President Barack Obama:
Observe over the next few days — it's already happening — how quickly journalistic shorthand, certainly in the right-wing media, converts the Cincinnati IRS office into "Obama's IRS," as if he were sitting around like Nixon personally targeting these groups. You and I know that's absurd. But on the right, it's a given that he was doing exactly that. [The Daily Beast]
Similar griping has been surfacing in Democratic offices on Capitol Hill. "This just feeds the right-wing paranoia that the government is out to get them," an unnamed Democratic congressional aide told The Washington Post. "On top of Benghazi hearings and emails, not a good week for the [Obama] administration."
James Pethokoukis of The National Review agrees that it has been a bad week for the White House, but in his view, the IRS and Benghazi scandals are proof that Big Government doesn't work:
Now Americans have been reminded that not only is big and intrusive government inefficient, it is also often corrupt. The Obama administration and its all-star cast were supposed to be progressivism's 21st-century proof of concept. Instead, they may have set progressivism back for another generation. [The National Review]
Whether or not the GOP benefits politically from what happened, one thing is for sure, according to Slate's John Dickerson: Any chance of bipartisan cooperation on issues like immigration and gun control just took a big hit.
"A poisoned well is now roiling," Dickerson writes, adding:
Any Republican who tries to convince their constituents about a deal will now likely get funny looks. Their constituents would wonder why they were engaged in negotiations with an administration that has told evolving stories about its response to the attack in Benghazi and that houses an IRS targeting conservative groups. [Slate]
A full report on what happened at the IRS from the Treasury's inspector general for tax administration is expected to be made public later this week.