Some things, like the DeLay Rule, are outrageous but not that surprising.
But what I’m about to describe is outrageous and almost literally unbelievable.
As you’ve probably heard, the congress is pushing through a big omnibus spending bill this weekend. And at the last minute, Republican leaders tried to slip in a provision that would give certain committee chairman and their staffers unlimited access to any American’s tax return, with none of the standard privacy protections applying.
You heard that right.
They could pull anyone’s tax return, read it over and do whatever they wanted with the information. Those who would have this power would be the chairs and ranking members of the senate and house appropriations committees and subcommittees and “their designees.”
The key is that the privacy rights provisions, and criminal and civil penalties that go with them, don’t apply for the appropriations committees.
At the last minute, Senate Democrats caught the language (keep in mind these omnibus bills can be like phone books), protested and the Republicans beat a hasty retreat. Some of it is discussed in this AP article at MSNBC, though they lamely call it a “tax-disclosure gaffe.”
The Republicans are acting like it was all an innocent mistake. And it seems clear that there are Republican senators who didn’t know anytihng about it and are pissed. But clearly this was no accident, unless provisions have started to write themselves.
Late Update: Here is the text of the provision in question (emphasis added)
“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.”
I’m not sure if it’s relevant to what happened here, but the Treasury Department falls under the jurisdiction of Istook’s subcommittee.