In a recent online town hall, I fielded difficult questions on the issues we’re facing as a nation. However, one of the toughest questions to answer didn’t relate to policy. Instead, it was when I was asked how we can change the feeling, shared by most Americans, that Washington is broken.
I answered in part that transparency and accountability would go a long way to restoring faith in Washington.
I responded to this question before new portions of the Benghazi emails were released and questions about the possible political manipulation of talking points escalated. Then news of the IRS scandal broke. Almost immediately after that came word that the Department of Justice had obtained the private phone records of dozens of Associated Press reporters.
These scandals reflect the exact opposite of what I meant. They move Washington’s image in the wrong direction.
For those of us who believe the tax code is too complex and that the average American’s tax rates are too high, the IRS scandal is particularly troubling. Targeting political groups, singling them out for additional scrutiny, simply because you disagree with their ideological views is wrong on every level.
There are many questions that need to be answered. The President needs to fully cooperate with the Congressional investigations into the IRS scandal. Our entire caucus signed a letter sent to the White House that demands at least this much from the administration.
Washington’s credibility—what little is left of it—is on the line. The American people deserve to know what actions will be taken to ensure those who made these decisions at the IRS will be held accountable. At the very least, those engaging in these unethical actions need to be fired. If laws were broken, individuals need to be prosecuted.
This scandal gives the already-maligned IRS a black eye. It reinforces people’s worst fears about Washington—that those in power will use any means necessary to maintain that power.
Keep in mind this agency will be responsible for implementing and enforcing key provisions of the President’s health care law—a law that a majority of Arkansans do not support. Worse yet, the very official in charge of the tax-exempt organizations at the time when the unit targeted conservative groups now runs the IRS office responsible for the health care law. If these types of abuses are allowed to go unchecked, what kind of bullying will go on when that implementation starts?
Everyone needs to be treated fairly under the law. Clearly, there are employees at the IRS who do not subscribe to this principle. There must be zero tolerance for their actions.
Until we change the culture here in Washington, we will not gain the confidence of the American people. The onus is on us. Washington as a whole—the White House, Congress, and every civil servant—has to remember who we work for and to whom we are accountable. These scandals keep moving us further from the goal post, not closer.