‘Honest Mistakes’ or ‘Beyond the Pale’?

From Associated Press

Whoever wrote a legislative provision to give broader congressional access to income tax records should be tracked down and held to account, a Democratic senator said Monday.

Republicans countered that the provision was not meant to weaken privacy laws. “Honest mistakes were made, but there’s no conspiracy here,” said Rep. Ernest J. Istook Jr. (R-Okla.), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the IRS.

The spending bill still contains the tax records language but is being held by Congress until the House passes a separate measure, expected Wednesday, repealing the provision. The Senate passed the separate measure Saturday. Both bills will be sent to the White House, which has indicated that President Bush will sign them at the same time.

Istook, whose name was linked to the language when it caused an uproar on the Senate floor during the weekend, denied Monday he was behind the provision, saying it was written by the Internal Revenue Service at the request of Appropriations Committee staff.


The intent, he said, was to give House and Senate Appropriations chairmen and their aides access to IRS processing centers for oversight purposes and not to review individual returns.

The provision says committee chairmen and their agents would have access to IRS “facilities and any tax returns or return information contained therein.”

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), whose aide was the first to point out implications posed by the provision, said he was writing the head of the IRS to ask whether the language originated in that agency. The author, he said at a news conference, “needs to be identified and held to account because that is beyond the pale.”

IRS spokesman Terry Lemons said the agency’s commissioner, Mark W. Everson, had been unaware of the provision in the spending bill and “strongly supports the measure being deleted from the final bill.”

He said the agency sought details on how the language was drafted.