An honest government is a limited government

“Part of being president is, there’s so much beneath you that you can’t know, because the government’s so vast.”

Oh, now David Axelrod tells us.

Axelrod, the political consultant who twice helped get Barack Obama elected president on a platform of ever bigger government, finally gave grudging acknowledgment Wednesday, during an interview on MSNBC, to what the rest of us argued all along.

At a certain point, you’ve made enough government.

Axelrod was speaking about the IRS scandal that has dominated headlines since Friday. The federal tax agency admitted Friday that workers at its Cincinnati office subjected conservative groups to extra scrutiny when reviewing their applications for tax-exempt status.

What the agency didn’t say then, but has since come to light: The scrutiny began in 2010; it also came from IRS offices in California and the agency’s D.C. headquarters; high-level IRS officials knew about it as early as spring 2011, despite denials of such behavior by the acting IRS director, to a House of Representatives committee, in March 2012; and dozens of liberal and progressive groups were approved for the same tax-exempt status during the 27 months that passed between approvals for tea-party groups.

There are also accusations that the IRS divulged confidential tax information about conservative groups or politicians, including Mitt Romney, during 2012.

(Late Wednesday afternoon, Obama announced that the acting commissioner of the IRS, Steve T. Miller, would resign. Obama said Miller was asked to resign because the agency needs new leadership while it faces a broad probe of its conduct, The Washington Post reported.)

So far, there is no evidence any of these actions were ordered or performed with the knowledge of anyone in the White House, much less the president. Yet, given how much of the IRS’s official story already has not checked out — and that Obama has joked in the past about auditing people who have crossed him and advised supporters to “punish [their] enemies” — further investigation is warranted.

In one important sense, though, it hardly matters if anyone in the administration is tied to this particular scandal.

Tax law is one of the chief ways in which the federal government promotes and enforces policy. Just ask Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote last year’s decision upholding Obamacare due not to the Commerce Clause, but to Congress’ power to levy taxes. That ruling essentially set the stage for government expansionists such as Obama to hand over more and more power to the IRS.

Even before that ruling, the IRS was a key agent of federal police power. Yes, there’s the FBI: But would you feel any less dread receiving a letter or phone call from the IRS, saying one of its agents would like to ask you about a few things about your tax return?

If low- or mid-level IRS workers have enough rein to target and harass groups based on their ideology, and to get away with it for at least two years, then we have the worst kind of tyranny: one that doesn’t depend on individuals, personalities or parties.

Consider that the IRS has primary responsibility for enforcing the hundreds of pages of law, and the thousands of pages of regulations, that make up Obamacare. It’s the IRS that will decide if taxpayers qualify for an exemption from the individual health-insurance mandate — the same kind of subjective power it wielded against conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. According to an AP report this week, the IRS will even be asked to determine which Native Americans are “Indian enough” to be exempted from the mandate.

Yes, the same IRS that Axelrod and others on the left have described as beyond Obama’s control is the agency tasked with enforcing Obama’s signature law, which covers all Americans and touches one-sixth of the U.S. economy. That’s more vastness of government, to borrow Axelrod’s phrase, and more happening beneath the president that he can claim not to know about — and thus not to be held accountable for.

As the saying goes, a government big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take everything you have. The IRS is the agency that does the taking. We need laws that give the IRS less leeway to do so, not more.