A House Oversight and Government Reform markup devolved into partisan bickering Friday, as Republicans on the panel ruled that Lois Lerner, the embattled IRS employee at the center of the tea party targeting scandal, waived her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination after she made an opening statement to the committee.
Republicans blocked a Democratic effort to hold a hearing on legal standards to apply in the case first before moving to force Lerner to testify or risk contempt charges. That didn’t sit well with Democrats.
“The chairman is going about this in reverse,” said ranking Democrat Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland. “He’s asking the committee to vote on his resolution first without taking basic commonsense measures to help all committee members, both Republican and Democrat, make reasoned and informed decisions.”
The panel’s chairman, GOP Rep. Darrell Issa of California, said such a meeting was unnecessary; he already had the House counsel’s opinion on the matter and had shared it with Cummings, telling the panel’s ranking member just not to “distribute it widely.”
That justification just didn’t work for Massachusetts Democrat John F. Tierney.
“The gentleman’s excuses are lame,” Tierney said.
Cummings noted that he wanted to hear Lerner’s testimony just as much as Republicans, but said hauling her back before the committee would violate her constitutional rights.
“We should all agree that this is not a responsible record to put forward because it undermines the credibility of this committee and the legitimacy of the resolution itself,” Cummings said.
But Florida Republican John L. Mica said it was the constitutional right of the committee and Congress to conduct its business, and that right “is being attempted to be thwarted by a government employee.”
“I’ve never seen an instance in which a witness would thwart their responsibility in such an offensive manner,” Mica said. "Lois Lerner is, in fact, the poster child for a federal bureaucrat thumbing her nose at Congress.”
“It’s not in the Constitution that there’s a fourth branch that can tell us to go to hell,” Mica said.
Lerner's opening statement immediately put her in hot water, when she departed from the standard script to declare her innocence.
“I have not broken any laws,” Lerner said on May 22, before she told members she would not be answering questions. “I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations, and I have not provided false information to this or any other congressional committee.”
After the committee completed its business, Pennsylvania Democrat Matt Cartwright held court with reporters to complain about Issa cutting him off during the markup. "It's amazing to me that we would railroad something like this through," Cartwright said.