In the best of times, the Internal Revenue Service is the agency everybody loves to hate. Yet thanks to self-inflicted wounds, these are the worst of times for the IRS. That doesn't mean the agency should receive less funds than it needs to do its job.
Beginning next year, that job is going to get harder. By 2014, under the Affordable Care Act, insurance exchanges are scheduled to be in place and most Americans will have to be insured or pay fines. Those who can't afford to pay will be helped by subsidies.
The IRS, which will help implement the law, is hiring thousands of new employees for the purpose. The Obama administration is seeking $12.9 billion for the IRS next year, a 14 percent increase, which would include $440 million for work on the health care law.
All this is happening when the IRS is more unpopular than usual, and the scandals besetting it jeopardize the funding needed to implement the law. That is ridiculous.
The IRS's troubles are not minor, but neither are they a reason to sabotage the agency. It was folly to target Tea Party groups in reviewing eligibility for tax-exempt status, but there's still no evidence that the administration was on a political witch hunt. Instead, it seems that this misbegotten idea originated with overzealous staffers in the Cincinnati office. Then it was reported that the IRS spent $50 million on conferences for its personnel.
What the threat to its funding is all about is not that the IRS can't be trusted. It's about Republicans hating the Affordable Care Act so much that they will seize on anything to doom it. The Republican-controlled House has voted 37 times to repeal the law, most recently last month.
The IRS scandals are another chance for Republicans to do what they couldn't in the presidential election, in Congress or at the Supreme Court. If the IRS can be trusted to do people's tax returns, it can be trusted to administer a law that deserves a fair chance to work to the benefit of millions of Americans.