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Tempers flare at IRS hearing. Reality show, anyone?

A couple of U.S. Representatives have stumbled across a way for Uncle Sam to raise more revenue without worrying about raising anybody's taxes.

Just turn the halls of Congress into a reality show.

I know, there's C-SPAN. I'm a big fan of the public affairs channel.

But with just a tinch of tweaking as happens with the so-called reality shows that are already so popular, Congress could have a hit on its hands.

In fact, Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) filmed the potential program's pilot today during yet another hearing on Internal Revenue Service operations. Check it out as Issa literally shuts down his colleague's attempt to be heard.

And yes, I am using literally correctly. Watch.

Now I admit that I don't watch reality programming. But Cummings' indignation, Issa's announcement that "'We're adjourned" followed by "Close it down" referring to Cummings' microphone and then Issa walking out was a pretty darn compelling exchange.

I'd put the pair up against the Real Housewives of Wherever any time.

Latest hearing, same enmity: In case you haven't been following or have forgotten (or tried to!), here's the programming pitch IRS situation refresher.

Issa and Cummings are their party's leaders on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. They've been facing off since a Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration report in May 2013 found that the IRS' tax exempt division had used questionable tactics in reviewing applications for that favorable 501(c)(4) tax status.

Today's confrontation was the culmination of months of tensions between chairman Issa and ranking member Cummings. Issa turning off Cummings mic and walking out just ratcheted things up a notch.

Not well played, Rep. Issa. Not well played at all.

If you're going to continue to say that your hearings are not politically motivated, then you need to at least let the other side have its say. Then you can spin it any way you want.

I'm sure a reality show director political consultant can give you some tips here for future episodes hearings.

Pleading the Fifth again: Exactly what set off the fireworks at the end of the truncated hearing? The same thing that happened the last time Lois Lerner came before the committee.

Lerner is the former head of the IRS Exempt Operations division. When she last appeared before Issa, Cummings et al, she still had her government job but refused to testify, asserting her Fifth Amendment rights.

She was fired last September, but Issa still wants to pick her brain about what was happening when she was clocking in at IRS HQ. He's convinced she knows who is behind the ill-handled reviews of tax-exempt status applications.

TIGTA's original report cited conservative and specifically Tea Party-affiliated applicant groups as the IRS' initial focus. It later was revealed that the IRS used be on the lookout, or BOLO, list to scrutinize liberal and progressive organizations, too.

But again today, Lerner took the Fifth. So after about 20 minutes of fruitless questioning and posturing, Issa called it a day, prompting one of the most memorable conclusions of a Congressional hearing.

Plot scandal synopsis: The GOP is insistent that there's a Watergate scale conspiracy linked to the IRS reviews. And Issa has hinted -- OK, flat out told Fox News -- that someone in the White House is involved.

See, conspiracy! You can't script it (not that reality shows ever do any of that) any better.

Democrats say that the situation was simply sloppy management and clumsy handling of applications. Conflict, another necessary program element.

The IRS has admitted mistakes were made and wants to revise the procedure, a process the Republicans also are fighting. More conflict and a scapegoat. Check that off the story element list. 

And Lerner's attorney says the whole thing is a political dog and pony show. A perfect B-story.

So far, no criminal charges have been brought. But wouldn't that make a great series finale?

Will Lerner be cited for contempt of Congress (Stop laughing people; it's a real charge!) because of her refusal to talk? Probably not.

But it could make a nifty alternate ending for the DVD set.

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From my years on the Hill I know that cross-Party relationships are difficult. But you note the conversation before the hearing started. I think Cummings, understandably and rightly, is fed up with Issa's posturing and pure politicking. As I said, he played the whole thing poorly after being embarrassed when Lerner took the 5th again when he apparently thought she was ready to spill her guts.

Peter Reilly

I think that Issa and Cummings are frenemies


If you watch closely you will see that they were chatting before the mics were turned on.

Maybe it is more like professional wrestling.

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