The Republicans’ lack of transparency and willingness to abuse their power is undermining democracy. It should be of grave concern to all Americans that their privacy could be invaded by such an outrageous provision.
- Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)
An act of Congress is generally a horribly lengthy and obtuse document. No one would reasonably confuse it for a little light bedtime reading. Nonetheless, these acts, once passed by Congress, become the law of the land. I’d always assumed that there were actually people who read the bills in order to make certain that everything was in order. That may no longer be a safe assumption. Thankfully, thanks to some of Sen. Kent Conrad’s (D-ND) sharp staffers, this little gem was caught before it did become the law of the land.
WASHINGTON (CNN) — A provision in the giant omnibus spending bill that would have allowed two lawmakers access to the tax returns of every American was “too dangerous” and should “never become law,” the senator whose staff found the provision said Monday.
Staff members of Sen. Kent Conrad, a Democrat from North Dakota, found the language in the 3,500-page bill Saturday after the House passed it on to the Senate as the deadline before the Senate’s holiday recess rapidly approached.
“You think of what could be done here,” Conrad told reporters at a news conference. “Any agent of the chairman of the Appropriations Committee — and they could designate anybody as an agent — could go into IRS facilities anywhere in the country and get your tax returns.”….
The provision would bypass other laws that govern “the disclosure of income tax returns or return information” — and that impose steep penalties and fines on such disclosure — to allow the chairmen of the House and Senate appropriations committees or their agents “access to Internal Revenue Service facilities and any tax returns or return information contained therein.”
Democrats are crying conspiracy and Republicans are pooh-poohing the whole incident as much ado about nothing. The truth is likely somehwere in the middle, but let’s look at this for just a moment. IF this had passed into law, the tax return of any American could be made available for scrutiny to anyone designated by the House or Senate Appropriations Committee. Given the current Republican stranglehold on power in Washington, it doesn’t take much of an imagination to consider the damage that could be done.
Yes, this provision was caught, but how many other like this have unknowingly been passed into law unnoticed? How easy would it be for someone to slip language into an appropriations bill that could be used to invade the privacy of Americans for political purposes? Apparently, far TOO easy.
Sen. John McCain said Sunday that the episode points up the problems created when Congress passes gigantic spending bills at the end of a session before anyone has time to read them.
“If there is ever a graphic example of the broken system that we now have, that certainly has to be it,” the Arizona Republican said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “How many other provisions didn’t we find?”
Indeed. This was but one incident, and clumsily handled at that. I wonder how long it will be before something that was missed comes back to bite us? What then?