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Democrats push to require 10 years of tax returns for 2020 presidential candidates

House Democrats are going to pass a bill that requires presidential candidates to submit a decade of tax returns


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Matthew Rozsa
January 4, 2019 7:26PM (UTC)

House Democrats are already signaling at least one direction in which they hope to go in order to hold President Donald Trump accountability — by forcing him to disclose his tax returns.

The party is proposing a new bill, H. R. 1, that if passed would require presidential and vice presidential nominees to release 10 years of tax returns after being coronated by their parties, according to CNN. Once the tax returns are released, the Federal Election Commission's website would then publicly post them so that voters could be aware of their presidential candidates' tax history.

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H. R. 1 doesn't only deal with the issue of tax returns. The bill is intended to be a major ethics law that would simultaneously address other issues that are extremely important to Democrats, including voting rights and health care reform. Although the legislation is unlikely to pass a Senate controlled by Republicans or be signed by Trump himself, it is nevertheless intended to signal what Democrats intend to focus on as a party. Just as importantly, it is intended to demonstrate that Democrats are serious about holding Trump accountable in ways that his own party has been unwilling to do when it was in control of both chambers of Congress.

This isn't the only effort being undertaken by the Democratic Party to learn more about Trump's tax returns. In addition to a hearing planned for the end of January by the House Ways and Means Committee on H. R. 1's tax provision, Democrats may pursue using a little-known IRS rule to allow Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., the incoming chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, to use his power to obtain Trump's tax returns from the Department of the Treasury.

Trump has repeatedly insisted that he will not release his tax returns because he is under audit by the IRS, even though that does not preclude him from publicizing his tax returns. After winning the 2016 presidential election, Trump switched his stance, with White House counselor Kellyanne Conway declaring that "the White House response is that he's not going to release his tax returns. We litigated this all through the election. People didn't care. They voted for him."

PolitiFact elaborated on the method that Rep. Neal may be able to use to obtain Trump's tax returns:

Attention has focused on a provision of the law known as 26 U.S. Code § 6103. This allows the chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, among other senior lawmakers, to seek returns by sending a written request to the Treasury Secretary. Officially, the decision to release the returns would be made by the Treasury Secretary, not the White House, although it’s not difficult to imagine presidential pressure being exerted on the secretary to refuse.

This legal authority is almost a century old, said University of Virginia law professor George Yin. "Congress decided that tax information should remain confidential except in two situations," Yin has written. "First, it authorized the president to determine whether any tax information could be disclosed. And, in 1924, it gave the same power to certain congressional committees." After Watergate, the presidential power was rescinded, but the congressional power remains.


Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a breaking news writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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