As we noted earlier, the latest story seems to be that Rep. Istook not only claims that the LPFKI was drafted by IRS personnel but that neither he nor his staff were the ones who asked them to write it.
Late this afternoon TPM spoke to IRS spokesman Terry Lemons, who provided us with the following statement: "The Commissioner [Mark W. Everson] was unaware of this provision until after it was already approved. He strongly supports the measure being deleted from the final bill."
Lemons said the IRS had commenced an internal inquiry into the origin of the provision at the behest of Sen. Kent Conrad.
Now, earlier this afternoon a TPM reader wrote in to say that he found it unlikely that Appropriations Committee staffers would not be aware of the sensitivity attached to tax return confidentiality or the fact that the plain language of the LPFKI (as per this afternoon's post, this is our acronym for the Legislative Provision Formerly Known as Istook) gives the chairs of the appropriations committees carte blanche to review them.
More to the point, though, he found it extremely implausible that IRS personnel would draft the language in the way that they allegedly did unless they were given specific guidance to do draft it in such an expansive fashion -- and perhaps not even then.
I quote from the reader's email, where he notes the basis of his skepticism ...
This is not because the IRS are good guys but because it would very strongly go against their bureaucratic interest. First of all it is a giveaway of power -- one does not draft something to give away more of one's exclusive power than absolutely necessary; and this is an exclusive right that the IRS has on a very important and indeed explosive subject. It's the IRS's official position that the assurance of confidentiality is critical to keeping taxpayers honest in filing returns. The tax system, as has often been pointed out (most notably by Justice Robert Jackson) relies almost entirely on voluntary compliance. Once the word got out that your tax returns might be inspected by Congress, many people would not want to be honest, and, more importantly, many more would use that as an excuse not to be honest.
I'm no expert on the IRS. But I do know a bit about Washington bureaucracies. And what this TPMer says at least sounds on the mark to me. It seems quite unlikely that an IRS staff attorney, asked simply to provide language authorizing senior appropriations committee staffers to conduct visits to IRS facilities in the course of their oversight duties, would produce language of such breadth.
But that's what Rep. Istook says. But then, how would he know, since he says he didn't have anything to do with asking them to write it?