Bloomberg News

Lew Defends IRS Health Care Attorney Under Attack by Tea Party

May 18, 2013

Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew

Jacob "Jack" Lew, U.S. treasury secretary, talks prior to a Bloomberg Television interview in Washington, D.C. on May 17, 2013. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Republicans, angry over the Internal Revenue Service scrutiny of anti-tax groups, have aimed their frustration at a career employee with a bonus benefit: She’s charged with overseeing an enforcement portion of the health-care law.

Sarah Hall Ingram, 55, was until December 2010 in charge of the office supervising nonprofit organizations. She shifted to her health-care role that month, before the IRS began giving the Tea Party nonprofit applications extra attention.

That isn’t stopping Tea Party advocates from insisting President Barack Obama fire her.

“Sarah Hall Ingram allowed and possibly encouraged the outrageous and discriminatory tactics toward Tea Party Patriots based on political ideology, clearly violating her supposedly unbiased office,” said Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder and national coordinator of Tea Party Patriots. “We certainly do not trust Sarah Hall Ingram to be anywhere near our incredibly sensitive health-care decisions.”

Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew yesterday came to Ingram’s defense, saying the 30-year veteran of the tax agency shouldn’t be blamed for something she didn’t do or oversee.

“Chronology matters in cases like this,” he said in an interview on “Political Capital with Al Hunt, airing this weekend on Bloomberg Television. ‘‘She has a high degree of professionalism and she was not in a position of responsibility over these actions.’’

‘Foolish Mistakes’

IRS officials have acknowledged they were wrong to target groups with the names ‘‘tea party’’ or ‘‘patriot’’ that were requesting nonprofit status. While many Tea Party groups faced intrusive questionnaires, so did some Democratic organizations. No Tea Party group has said they were denied nonpartisan status by the IRS, and many have been approved for it.

In Capitol Hill testimony yesterday, Steven Miller, the retiring acting IRS commissioner, said agency employees weren’t politically motivated. They made ‘‘foolish mistakes’’ in trying to design a shortcut while managing a surge of applications and provided ‘‘horrible consumer service,’’ he said.

The target of the Republican activists’ ire is a woman who joined the IRS in 1982 after graduating from Yale University and Georgetown University law school. Ingram, who has held a variety of posts inside the agency, worked in the exempt organizations section from 1999-2006 and then returned as commissioner of the division in May 2009.

She hasn’t contributed to candidates of either political party, according to the Center for Responsive Politics and the National Library on Money and Politics, two groups that track campaign donations from 1989 and beyond.

Tea-Party Attack

L. Brent Bozell, a Republican activist who is chairman of the Alexandria, Virginia-based advocacy group ForAmerica, still labeled her ‘‘an ideologically driven individual” and one of the “key individuals in charge of handing out punishment to groups that did not support the president’s far-left agenda.”

In another move to weaken the health-care law, Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, on May 16 introduced the “Keep the IRS Off Your Health Care Act of 2013,” preventing the agency from enforcing the law. The IRS will oversee the law’s mandate requiring Americans to buy insurance or pay fines.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, contended that this outrage is just a new excuse to oppose the health-care law. House Republicans voted on May 16 for the 37th time to repeal all or part of the legislation.

“She had nothing to do with the scandal,” said Sloan, whose group has sued the IRS to ban nonprofits from spending money on political activities. “This is all the more proof that this is just an attempt to go after Obamacare. They never get tired of that issue.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan D. Salant in Washington at jsalant@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at jcummings21@bloomberg.net.


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