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'It only gets worse'

One month ago today, we learned that the House Republican Conference had given its members "exceptionally detailed" guides on how best to survive the August recess. The "planning kit" told GOP lawmakers to, among other things, push the IRS "scandal" in the media, despite the fact that there is no IRS "scandal."

And the party is following the plan closely.

Yesterday, for example, the National Republican Congressional Committee launched this attack ad targeting Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.), claiming that when he voted against the latest Obamacare-repeal bill, he voted to "keep the scandal-ridden IRS in charge" of the Affordable Care Act.

Yes, in case you were wondering, the National Republican Congressional Committee really does believe voters are fools. And yes, House Republican leaders really did hold their 40th vote on repealing the federal health care law precisely so the party could create attack ads like this one.

As a substantive matter, the message is demonstrably ridiculous and was debunked months ago. As Jonathan Cohn explained in May, "The IRS scandal has nothing to do with Obamacare but that's not stopping laughable attempts to link them."

Brian Beutler even highlighted the irony: Republican health care measures rely on the IRS every bit as much as the Affordable Care Act does.

But the larger takeaway is that the IRS story is dead and buried, but Republicans need to pretend otherwise.

The list of examples isn't short. Maddow Blog reader J.J. let me know yesterday about this gem published in the Detroit News by Republican Reps. Dave Camp and Candice Miller of Michigan. The headline reads, "Why does the IRS care who you vote for?"

Every American finds dealing with the IRS to be an intimidating experience. That is why recent revelations that the IRS is targeting certain groups with extra scrutiny and harassment, simply because of their political beliefs, is cause for great concern. While President Barack Obama and his supporters have called these actions a "phony scandal," it only gets worse as more evidence comes to light.

I have no idea whether Reps. Camp and Miller actually believe this nonsense. Part of me hopes they know they're not telling the truth, because the alternative is slightly more unnerving -- leading GOP lawmakers, including in this case the chairs of two powerful committees, are struggling to keep up on the basics of current events, and don't see the need to do their homework before writing an op-ed for newspaper publication.

The Camp and Miller piece alleges there were "unusual" email exchanges between the IRS and the Federal Election Commission, which in turn suggests the IRS is guilty of "intimidation and harassment," possibly even keeping tabs on who you vote for. All of this -- literally, the whole thing -- was scrutinized in detail several weeks ago and proven baseless.

Either Camp and Miller know this and repeated the claims anyway in the hopes of keeping a baseless "scandal" alive, or they're clueless. Either way, the Republican efforts to cling to discredited nonsense seems to be getting sillier.

Remember, for the right, the general argument about the IRS story was relatively straightforward: the tax agency, perhaps at the White House's request, targeted conservative groups and made it harder for them to apply for tax-exempt status. The allegations, we now know, have been torn to shreds -- conservative groups weren't targeted; liberal groups faced the same treatment; and none of this relates to the White House in any way.

Sarah Swinehart, a spokesperson for Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee, responded to the latest revelations this week by saying, "The facts are clear: Conservative groups received more questions, more denials and more delays."

But this isn't true, either. How many conservative groups were "denied" tax-exempt status by the IRS as part of this mess? None. How could organizations on the right have faced "more denials" if the total number of conservative denials is zero?

Even in the House Republicans' government-shutdown scheme, the discredited IRS story is in the mix -- we need to defund the federal health care system, the argument goes, because the tax agency is "publicly known to have deliberately discriminated against conservative entities." Is that true? No. Does it make any sense in this context? Of course not. Do House Republicans care? Apparently, no.

There is no IRS controversy. The sooner congressional Republicans come to terms with this, the easier it will be to stop laughing at them.