REMEMBER those widely publicized Senate hearings of citizens accusing the Internal Revenue Service of abuses and vendettas against them? They made for great fodder for gleeful Republicans, who choreographed the proceedings to fit their political objectives.
But these alleged abuses never happened.
That's the conclusion of a General Accounting Office report. Earlier studies also were unable to corroborate the charges loudly leveled at the nation's tax-collecting agency back in 1998.
Sen. William V. Roth of Delaware had a field day bashing the IRS as Big Brother run amok. He dug up taxpayers who complained about intimidation, mistreatment, cover-ups and heavy-handed actions.
IRS agents had "terrorized" taxpayers, the witnesses alleged.
But when the GAO -- the investigative arm of Congress -- looked into the specific charges, it found nothing of substance.
Instead, the GAO time and again discovered that decisions had been based on substantial factual evidence; that agents had followed IRS procedures and often had taken extra steps to ensure everything was done properly; and that the witnesses couldn't back up their claims.
All this doesn't matter to Mr. Roth, who gained national coverage and pushed through Congress a sweeping set of IRS reforms, based on that bogus testimony. He and other lawmakers must have known the IRS couldn't respond at the hearing to the allegations because of federal privacy laws.
Now it turns out there may not have been a need for those sweeping reforms, that the IRS had been doing its job as it was supposed to all along.
Yet Republicans in Congress so intimidated the IRS through these hearings that there's been a sharp drop in enforcement actions such as audits and tax liens. That means more tax-evaders are getting away with their law-breaking behavior. This, in turn, encourages more acts of civil defiance.
It's easy to vilify tax collectors. Republicans in recent years have done it regularly. It would be harder to apologize for basing congressional action on discredited testimony.