A Few Thoughts on the IRS Targeting Scandal

Written on December 26, 2014

A few thoughts on this recent development that there the White House had nothing to do with alleged targeting of conservative groups by the IRS.

  1. We know that people engage in motivated reasoning when making decisions, but little work has been done about elites and Chairman Issa’s failure to prove the White House was in charge of the scandal suggests that motivated reasoning was an issue here. It seems as though this has happened twice to Chairman Issa now, both with this situation and the Benghazi issue. What I mean is that the Chairman has asserted bad behavior by the President with very little evidence ahead of time and the administration was later cleared by his own committee. A lot of political science sort of assumes that elites are more or less rational and are acutely aware of the political environment they exist within. The failure of Issa’s committee to choose the right issues to investigate is also a failure of Issa’s political awareness and suggests to me that he wasn’t viewing the landscape objectively but instead was viewing it through his own partisan lense. In other words, he disregarded information that disagreed with his opinions and gave more weight to ‘favorable’ information. This is something that happens to regular folks, but I wouldn’t expect to happen with an elite such as Issa.

  2. A pretty famous paper has argued that oversight committees only really exercise their oversight power when ‘the building is burning down.’ What seems to be more accurate, at least in the modern era, is that oversight committees will harass the administration with subpoenas, requests for documents, and that sort of activity if President is from a different party than the Congressional chamber. Instead of caring much about oversight, oversight committees are more concerned with their electoral concerns and scoring political points to aid their election goal.

  3. Doesn’t it seem like Henry Waxman was a more effective Chairman of this committee when he was going after President Bush? Here’s an example. Waxman never put all of his eggs in one basket and went after the President on a “dozen fronts.” If any of them flamed out it didn’t really seem to matter as much because he had other pokers in the fire. Issa has had two very profile issues this Congress and they’ve both failed. It seems like the Waxman strategy is a better strategy to me.