House Passes Bill Requiring Public Disclosure of President’s Tax Documents
The U.S. House of Representatives on Dec. 22 passed a bill that would require the U.S. government to make a president’s tax documents public.
H.R. 9640 (pdf), or the Presidential Tax Filings and Audit Transparency Act of 2022, was approved in a 222–201 vote, with five Republicans joining all Democrats in voting yes. Eight members missed the vote.
The bill would compel the IRS to examine each tax return filed by a president and later post the actual tax documents online for all to see.
Democrats said the legislation was needed because, after recently obtaining former President Donald Trump’s tax documents, they discovered the IRS only audited one year of Trump’s returns while he was in office.
The IRS presidential audit program mandates a review of presidential tax returns, but the mandatory review is not enshrined in law.
“The program was otherwise dormant at best,” Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, said this week during a markup of the legislation. “The examination of the 2017 to 2019 returns was not even started until the president left office, and none of the audits were ever completed. The committee’s findings show a clear need for Congress to act.”
The IRS declined to comment on the bill or its actions regarding Trump. All of Trump’s returns were examined by the IRS, including two when he was still in office, according to information Democrats have released, and one was designated for an audit.
Democrats also defended trying to compel the release of tax returns, days after voting to make Trump’s returns public.
“Don’t run for president if you don’t want people looking into your finances,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said.
Most presidential candidates disclose their tax returns but Trump declined to do so even after he entered office, saying he was being audited.
Democrats acknowledged the information they obtained confirmed that Trump was and is still being audited but said that should not have prevented him from releasing his returns.
Republicans said the bill was being rushed to the floor.
“Requiring the IRS to publicly disclose someone’s tax returns, even those of the president of the United States, is a very dangerous road to go down—one that deserves better and longer consideration,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said.
Arguments on the Floor
Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), who led the effort to obtain Trump’s taxes, said that the president is “not an ordinary taxpayer” and that the bill was “about the presidency” as opposed to a specific president.
“This bill, combined with investments in the IRS we made as part of the Inflation Reduction Act, will preserve the integrity of the executive and our system of tax and ensure that no one is above the law,” said Neal, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), the top Republican on that panel, said that the legislation was “a flimsy excuse that for years has been used to justify the political targeting of former President Trump.”
“This week, Democrats in Congress accomplished their goal, for the first time making public the full actual tax returns of a private citizen. This unprecedented action jeopardizes the right of every American to be protected from political targeting by Congress,” Brady said. “We’re told President Trump’s returns must be released in order to conduct audits. That’s absurd. That’s like going to the doctor and being told that your private medical records must be released in order to be examined. One has nothing to do with the other. And then you would quickly realize, someone just wants to release your medical records and any excuse will do.”
Republicans pointed out that Democrats did not seek tax information from any other former president, including former Democrat Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.
The Senate has little time to act on the new bill, with the new Congress poised to be seated in January 2023.
“We are debating a bill which will never be considered in the Senate or become law solely to paper over the bad decision Democrats made two nights ago,” Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.) said.
Republicans will take control of the House in the new Congress after flipping about a dozen seats in the midterm elections.
Courts Side With Democrats
The IRS handed over Trump’s documents to Neal’s panel after a yearslong battle that started while Trump was still in office.
Neal’s initial request was rejected by the Department of Treasury, after the Department of Justice advised that Neal’s stated reason for the request—to examine the audit program—was “implausible,” especially amid his failure to renounce his intention to make the documents public.
After President Joe Biden took office, Neal sent a new request, and the Department of Justice reversed itself. That led to a court battle where Trump argued the request lacked a legitimate legislative intent and that Democrats planned to release the documents if they obtained them. But the courts concluded Neal had offered a legitimate legislative intent, and the Supreme Court ultimately agreed.