18 months before the 2014 midterm election, Democrats are jumping ship to distance themselves from Obama and the IRS scandal. In preparation for the campaign trail, the Democrats are avoiding any mentioned of the White House, drilling the IRS on the perceived incompetency of the Cincinnati bureau, and criticizing their Republican colleagues for fabricating links to the White House.
Members from both sides of the aisle in the Senate Finance Committee pressed the IRS for information about the extra scrutiny received by those 501(c)(4)s with common conservative names including "Tea Party" and "Patriot." Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) cosigned a letter with the committees ranking Republican, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), to IRS commissioner Steve Miller with dozens of questions.
"Targeting applicants for tax-exempt status using political labels threatens to undermine the public’s trust in the IRS," the letter explains. "Lack of candor in advising the Senate of this practice is equally troubling."
Baucus is trying to avoid suffering the same fate as many Republicans in 2006 after Hurricane Katrina. As a senior Democratic strategist warns, Democrats should not underestimate the potential electoral cost of the IRS scandal. "I really do believe that one of the most important factors that caused Republicans to lose the House in 2006 was Hurricane Katrina. It played into what voters felt about Republicans — that they don’t care and that they don’t care about government. [The IRS scandal] plays into what people think about Democrats, that we like big government … It makes it harder to play in Republican districts."
Democrats are also taking aim at their Republican colleagues whom they believe have been too partisan in hearings. Rep Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) complained after one of the hearings: "It's about partisanship once again and trying to somehow link this to the White House. It’s the same old, same old, exactly what people are really angry about what is happening in Washington today."
Jesse Ferguson, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee deputy executive director, added: "Democrats have been swift and tough in dealing with these situations but remain focused on the priorities important to families. Maybe that's why the public approval rating of this Republican Congress is in a race to the bottom with the IRS."
For the most part, Democrats have neither strongly criticized nor supported the White House, choosing instead to aim their talking points at IRS mismanagement and reform, and Republican partisanship in hearings. Not surprisingly, while the two parties are in agreement as concerns the issue of IRS mismanagement, each party sees this scandal as affecting the midterm elections very differently.
"Obama's political foundation is starting to crack and those tremors are being felt by House Democrats who have been forced to defend these abuses of power," said Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, the National Republican Congressional Committee chairman. "Now we know the real reason why Obama wants to take back the House: so he doesn't have any oversight on his administration."
In response, veteran Democratic pollster Paul Maslin says that "none of this stuff — Libya, the Justice Department, the IRS — none of it is like Obamacare, which had ramifications for millions of Americans. What’s going to matter are the more important things. The stories are the flies that are buzzing around right now, but they aren't the real issue."
Although we will have to wait 18 months to see whether this past week's scandals have any effect on the election, one thing is certain. As the election nears, the Obama administration cannot rely on the full support of Congressional Democrats who are fighting for their seats and are trying to disassociate themselves from the White House.