My colleague Emma Roller is doing the legwork at today’s Tea Party rally to “audit the IRS,” but I’m paying attention to the messaging from members of Congress.
“Why did the director of the IRS visit the White House 157 times?” asked Ted Cruz. During the Bush years, he claimed, the director only visited the place once. So Cruz poured on the snark. “He has an excuse—he was at the White House Easter Egg Roll! I know it feels like the Obama administration has been going on for a long time, but I don’t think we’ve had 157 Easters!”
We haven’t, true, but ousted IRS Director Douglas Shulman didn’t actually visit the Obama White House 157 times. The great Garance Franke-Ruta spotted this head-popping claim last month, and explained its origins in the comprehensive way the Obama White House issues documentation of visits. (The Bush White House had a different disclosure process, which partly explains Cruz’s other number.) Shulman was cleared to enter the White House 157 times, but “he was cleared 40 times to meet with Obama’s director of the Office of Health Reform, and a further 80 times for the biweekly health reform deputies meetings and others set up by aides involved with the health-care law implementation efforts.” The Bush years didn’t see a vast expansion of the IRS’ responsibilities; the Obama years did. And further, the White House only has dates and times confirming 11 total Shulman visits. Some of those other times, maybe more than 100 of those other times, Shulman was cleared but didn’t show.
So did the IRS director stop by the White House during the period when his tax-exempt office was irritating Tea Party groups? Yes. Has the IRS devoted plenty of bureaucratic hours to the coming implementation of Obamacare? Yes—famously, it moved over one administrator from tax-exempt duties to Obamacare duties. But Cruz was suggesting that Shulman was shuttling back and forth from top White House meetings that must have been about the targeting of the Tea Party. When you’ve got this much to work with, why gild that lily?