By Nick Hildebrand
Herald News Editor
WASHINGTON, D.C. —
U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly made an impression during Friday’s hearing on the IRS targeting of political groups seeking tax exempt status.
The Butler Republican who represents Mercer County got a round of applause from the gallery at the House Ways and Means Committee after he dressed down outgoing acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller and compared the revenue department to a “monster under the bed” frightening all Americans.
“I have a grandson who’s afraid to get out of bed at night because he thinks there’s somebody under the bed that’s going to grab him. And I think most Americans feel that way about the IRS. Getting a letter from you folks? Or a phone call? It’s with terror,” Kelly told Miller.
Kelly’s questioning garnered attention from the online community of political bloggers and conservative news outlets. A Google search turned up dozens of headlines about the congressman’s “berating rant” and “brutal takedown” of Miller, who was fired over reports that IRS agents specifically targeted tea party and right wing groups.
Salon.com reported Kelly went “buck wild” and Human Events said he went “nuclear.” Fox News said Kelly’s rant captured the “angst against the agency.”
The IRS, Kelly said, “can do almost anything they want to anybody they want, anytime they want. This is very chilling for the American people.”
“This is absolutely an overreach, and this is an outrage for all America,” he said.
Kelly said he doubted President Obama’s assertion in a news conference earlier this week that he found out about the political targeting through the news media.
“I don’t believe the White House just found out about this in a news report,” he said. “There’s a heck of a lot more that has to come out on this. … I am more concerned today than I was before.”
Before the hearing, Kelly’s office released a letter he sent to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew requesting an investigation of any political motive in the closing of General Motors dealerships after the government bailed out the automaker in 2009.
Kelly’s letter cites the IRS story as the impetus for the request.
“The IRS’s now-confirmed targeting of conservative groups is a frightening reminder that no branch or department of the federal government is immune from overstepping legal and ethical boundaries,” he wrote.
The letter notes that an inspector general’s report on the bailout indicates that a lack of documentation makes it “impossible” to determine if decisions were based on “supposedly objective criteria.”
“In light of the department’s unthinkable breaches of public trust still being revealed by the IRS scandal, my colleagues and I have a duty to examine whether auto dealers across the country saw their businesses close as a result of similar political profiling.”
The bailout-related dealership closings inspired Kelly’s congressional career. He says he decided to run in 2010 after GM, under government orders, tried to take away the Cadillac line from the car dealership he owns in Butler. Kelly successfully lobbied the company to retain Cadillac. The dealership sells GM, Kia and Hyundai models.
His office did not provide any specific allegations to support the idea that politics played a part in the dealer shutdowns.