Thursday, March 30, 2017

It's time for Trump to release his tax returns -- March 30, 2017 column


About once a week, House Democrats try to force President Donald Trump to release his tax returns, and about once a week House Republicans stop them.

Republicans Tuesday blocked a Democratic resolution on the House floor about the same time Republicans in the House Ways and Means Committee defeated a similar Democratic effort.

But why?  

Trump’s tax returns should not be a partisan issue – and if their release becomes a long-running battle, both parties will lose. To move ahead with his agenda, the president needs to release his returns now.

Most people want Trump to release his returns, polls show. Plus, nearly 1.1 million people signed a petition on the White House web site, calling for their release.

Many Republicans wish he had done so long ago, as his predecessors did for the last 40 years.

It’s “disqualifying for a modern-day presidential nominee to refuse” to release his returns, 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney said during the campaign.

“Republican voters, GOP officials, and all Americans should demand that Donald Trump release his tax returns, something he refuses to do with the flimsiest of excuses,” National Review columnist John Fund wrote a year ago. 

If it was true then, why not now? Mainly because Trump is in the White House and he doesn’t want to.

“What’s he got to hide?” asked Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., who has led the effort to force release under a 1924 law that allows Ways and Means to obtain tax returns of executive branch officials.

With Trump about to start on tax reform, Democrats rightly argue that people have a right to know the president’s financial relationships and potential conflicts of interest. Republican House leaders counter that forcing Trump to release his returns would jeopardize his individual civil liberties and right to privacy.

Only two Republicans broke with their party – Reps. Walter Jones of North Carolina and Mark Sanford of South Carolina. Others have tried to have it both ways.

Constituents at a town hall meeting in February cheered Rep. David Young, R-Iowa, when he said: “You run for president, you’re president, you should release your tax returns. It’s a distraction and I think the American people should know,” the AP reported.

In Washington, though, Young voted against the measure. An aide dismissed the vote as a “partisan stunt.”

Trump initially said he couldn’t release his returns because he’s under audit by the IRS, although it’s up to him. Later he said the election proved people don’t care about his taxes.

That’s easy for him to say when people haven’t seen them. 

Trump’s refusal has gotten under Democrats’ skin. They need to be wary, though, of casting theatrical show votes for their base, as House Republicans did when they voted more than 60 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act during the Obama years, none of which succeeded.

Hillary Clinton said of Trump in a debate that “maybe he doesn’t want the American people – all of you watching tonight – to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes.”

“That makes me smart,” Trump shot back.

We got a glimpse of one year Trump paid taxes -- 2005. Pulitzer-Prize winning investigative reporter Donald Cay Johnston received two pages of the return anonymously by mail and went on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” March 14.

Trump paid about $38 million in taxes on $153 million in income for an effective tax rate of 24 percent. Even though Trump tweeted the reports were “FAKE NEWS,” the White House confirmed the numbers.

“Thank you Rachel Maddow for proving to your #Trump hating followers how successful @realDonaldTrump is & that he paid $40mm in taxes!” Donald Trump Jr. tweeted.

Trump and his wife Melania paid most of their income tax as an alternative minimum tax, which taxpayers must pay in certain circumstances if they claim many itemized deductions. Trump has called for eliminating the AMT.

It should come as no surprise that Trump favors tax policies that will help him and his supporters. More important is whether the policies also benefit most taxpayers.

Republicans and Democrats should work together to persuade -- or force – Trump to release his tax returns for the sake of trust and transparency in government. The people deserve to know.

©2017 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.


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