Good to know they take this governing thing seriously. Rep. Bill Pascrell, one of the senior members on the House Ways and Means Committee, tells The Hill that the new majority plans to exercise its authority to get to the biggest issues facing the American people. Rather than that being how much tax Americans pay, the new Democratic majority wants to focus like a laser on how much tax Donald Trump has to pay:
House Democrats want to get their hands on President Trump’s tax returns, and plan to make the issue a key part of their agenda upon taking the majority next year. …
Democrats want to know if and how Trump is avoiding taxes, particularly in the wake of a lengthy New York Times story published in early October that said Trump and his family engaged in “dubious” tax schemes in the 1990s so that the president’s parents could avoid gift and estate taxes.
They also want to see how Trump is benefiting from the tax-cut law he signed last year, which to date is his biggest legislative accomplishment. And they want to learn about any conflicts of interests that Trump may have, including any links to foreign governments.
Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), the top Democrat on the Ways and Means tax-policy subcommittee, said on a call with reporters Wednesday that obtaining Trump’s tax returns is “important in both guaranteeing our national security and in protecting the integrity of the tax code.”
This echoes what Rep. Richard Neal, the upcoming Democratic chair of Ways and Means, told The Hill the day after the election, as well as Rep. Eric Swalwell’s concurrence later that day:
Rep. Richard Neal: "I think the President has an opportunity here to diffuse this and just release the [tax] forms as every other candidate for President has done." https://t.co/uyGkzpViAd pic.twitter.com/zwx66dMbXu
— The Hill (@thehill) November 9, 2018
House Democrats expecting to make this a transparency issue might run into a few surprises, however. Yahoo’s Rick Newman reminds everyone that a subpoena for tax records doesn’t guarantee compliance, and even if it succeeds, publishing them is another matter entirely. All Democrats have won is the right to request the returns:
While Neal can ask for the returns, Trump can instruct his Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, to say no. “Congress has a legitimate right to ask for the information as part of its oversight role,” says Steve Rosenthal of the nonprofit Tax Policy Center, a tax lawyer and former counsel to Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation. “What is less clear is whether the president would turn over his returns voluntarily. I think he’ll resist. They could construct some executive argument saying this is a fishing expedition.”
That’s an easy claim to make because this clearly is a fishing expedition. Newman notes that a court fight over a refusal would have to wind its way to the Supreme Court, where a solid conservative majority might demand more probable cause for an intrusion on privacy before approving the demand.
Even if they succeed in getting their hands on the returns, though, there may not be much they can do with them. The law restricts publication of returns, although House Democrats might rely on an age-old mechanism, Newman writes — the leak:
If the House does eventually get Trump’s tax returns, the next question is whether they could legally make them public, which is an unsettled matter that revolves around whether there’s a legitimate legislative reason to make such information public. There’s some irony here, because in 2014, House Republicans made public the tax returns of 51 nonprofit organizations the Ways and Means chairman, Dave Camp, had obtained from the IRS using the same statute Neal would use to get Trump’s returns. So Republicans established a precedent for going public. And if Trump’s returns didn’t find daylight through legal means, it’s hard to believe somebody wouldn’t leak them to the press.
That may be why courts will take a very dim view of a House fishing expedition in the first place. Congress had a reason to demand and publish those returns, which was the malfeasance of the IRS itself in dealing with non-profit applications for tax-exempt status. Even with that, Camp and other Republicans came under considerable criticism for exposing the tax records of those taxpayers.
To some extent, though, all this misses the point. Bret Stephens warned Democrats yesterday that conducting a nakedly partisan attack on Trump via its newly minted majority authority would backfire spectacularly in two years:
It’s also a reminder that, in politics, intensity is not strategy. You have to be able to convert.
The Resistance didn’t convert.
It didn’t convert when it nominated left-wing candidates in right-leaning states like Florida and Georgia. It didn’t convert when it poured its money into where its heart was — a lithesome Texas hopeful with scant chance of victory — rather than where the dollars were most needed. It didn’t convert when it grew more concerned with the question of how much Trump did not pay in taxes than with the question of how much you pay in taxes. …
he result of the midterms means, if nothing else, that the president survived his first major political test more than adequately. And unless Democrats change, he should be seen as the odds-on favorite to win in 2020.
To repeat: I’d hate to see that happen. I want Trump, and Trumpism, to lose. But if the Resistance party doesn’t find a way to become a shrewder, humbler opposition party, that’s not going to happen. The day Democrats take charge in the House would be a good opportunity to stop manning imaginary barricades, and start building real bridges to the other America.
Starting off by indulging in Trump obsession is not a great way to show they’ve learned anything.