WASHINGTON -- A Republican member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee warned Wednesday that Americans would "take matters into their own hands" if Congress doesn't keep investigating the IRS's handling of tax-exempt political groups.
The assertion came during a hearing updating the IRS's response to the so-called targeting in which significantly more conservative political groups than liberal ones got extra scrutiny on their applications for tax breaks.
It came from Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), who asked no questions of the witness, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, but instead decided to address his responses to Democrats' questions about morale at the IRS, which Koskinen said was suffering amid deep budget cuts and the ongoing demands of the investigation, which he said has cost $18 million so far.
But Lummis was not concerned about the federal workers at the tax agency, and blamed the IRS for hurting her constituents.
"Morale is low in Wyoming because our government has turned against us," Lummis told Koskinen, suggesting the millions of dollars spent and hundreds of IRS workers devoted to answering questions about the targeting were well worth it.
"This is a legitimate investigation. I hope it continues at length. I hope it goes on until we get to the truth," she said. "The people we work for feel like the government is getting away with their tax dollars that they don't owe. They feel like the government is denying them tax-exempt status that they deserve."
She also asserted that Americans "feel like they can't trust the IRS."
"That's why this investigation. That's why you're here and asked the same question over and over," she told Koskinen, before hinting at some sort of rebellion by citizens.
"Our constituents are mortified and scared, and are gonna take matters into their own hands because they don't feel we have the ability to do it ourselves," she said, not specifying exactly what constituents might do.
But at least one Democrat on the committee, Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), objected to Lummis' warning, noting that less than an hour before, a man had been captured trying to enter a House office building with a gun. He warned that members of Congress need to choose their words carefully.
"Knowing that there are over 4,000 staffers and interns at risk here on the House side of the Capitol and recalling the horrible Gabby Giffords tragedy and the loss of staffer Gabriel Zimmerman, I would ask that members refrain from making statements that could even possibly be misconstrued by the public as an invitation to do anything like that," he said, noting it was clear to him that Lummis did not intend to suggest to her voters that they resort to such violence.
"It behooves all of us to be very careful about the way we phrase things because there are people out there who are ready and able to misconstrue things," Cartwright said.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.