WASHINGTON ― Democrats newly in control of the House of Representatives unveiled the first part of their legislative agenda Friday, but they left out one thing: President Donald Trump’s tax returns.
While a sweeping new legislative package would require presidential candidates to disclose a decade’s worth of tax information ― and would also reform campaign finance and election laws ― Democrats have not said when they plan seek copies of Trump’s tax info, which they had previously promised to do.
“We’re going to be reasonable. We’re not going to have a knee-jerk reaction,” Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), a top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, told HuffPost. “We got enough experts to testify. We want have hearings and put more pressure on.”
The chairman of Ways and Means has the legal authority to request copies of anyone’s tax records from the IRS, which the committee can then vote to make public. But the incoming Democratic chairman, Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), has indicated he might wait more than a month to do so, drawing criticism from some tax and policy experts.
A spokesperson for Neal did not respond to a request for comment on Friday. The congressman previously said he would seek Trump’s tax returns if Democrats won the House in November.
One problem with the idea that Democrats need to put more pressure on Trump is that Trump has already been under pressure to release his tax returns for two and a half years. In 2016, he flouted decades of precedent by keeping secret the kind of tax information that presidential candidates traditionally disclose, to reveal personal details such as their sources of income, how much tax they pay and how much they give to charity.
The New York Times reported in October that in the past, Trump has dodged taxes through “outright fraud.” There’s also the question of whether Trump, who hasn’t divested from his business, is receiving income from individuals or organizations trying to influence the government.
Still, just because the Ways and Means chairman can ask the IRS for a person’s tax returns ― and the law says the Treasury Department is required to hand them over ― doesn’t mean the Trump administration will obey the law. A spokesperson for the department previously said any such request would be reviewed “for legality,” meaning Democrats could be in for a court battle if they make their request. The possibility of a long legal fight may be another reason not to waste time now.
Ways and Means and other committees have not even named their new members since Democrats assumed control of the House this week, said Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), one of the main authors of the bill Democrats introduced Friday. Sarbanes said Neal and other committee leaders would want to meet with their new members to set priorities for oversight and legislation.
“I don’t regard that as foot-dragging,” Sarbanes said. “The public is worn out. They’re fatigued with this kind of shoot-from-the-hip way of governing up here in Washington.”