The House’s top tax writer has canceled the January 24 hearing set to examine the impacts of the partial Treasury and IRS shutdown. The ongoing, longest government shutdown in U.S. history began on December 22, 2018. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., said he canceled the hearing because Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin declined the invitation to testify.
Mnuchin Refuses to Testify on Partial Treasury, IRS Shutdown
Mnuchin sent Neal a January 24 letter explaining his absence from the canceled hearing. Additionally, Neal stated in the letter that he agreed to testify before the Committee at a later date, but mentioned doing so in reference to President Donald Trump’s budget rather than the matter at hand.
Mnuchin spoke with Neal by phone on the evening of January 23, at which time Mnuchin reportedly communicated that he would not attend the previously scheduled January 24 hearing. Additionally, in echoing a previous letter from Treasury, Mnuchin offered the testimony of senior IRS and Treasury officials instead. However, Neal rejected Mnuchin’s offer.
IRS Reportedly Unprepared for 2019 Tax Filing Season
The IRS is reportedly unprepared for the 2019 tax filing season, according to a late January 23 press release by Neal. “With tax filing season beginning in five days and the timely issuing of taxpayer refunds at stake, we need to hear directly from the Secretary to gain greater clarity regarding the IRS’ capabilities during the shutdown,” Neal said. “Reports indicate the agency is unprepared.”
Although Mnuchin did agree to testify before the Ways and Means Committee in the future, he specifically stated it would be for reasons other than the 2019 tax filing season. “As discussed, I look forward to identifying an agreeable date to testify before the Committee, as is customary, once the President’s Budget has been released,” Mnuchin said in the January 24 letter. Additionally, Mnuchin stated that the offer still stands for the Committee to hear from senior Treasury and IRS officials.
Measures to End Government Shutdown Fail in Senate
Meanwhile, a Republican package to reopen the government failed in the Senate on January 24. Additionally, the package contained funding for Trump’s border security requests as well as certain Democratic DACA priorities. The measure was blocked by a 50-to-47 vote with one favorable Democratic vote and two Republican deflections.
Also, the Senate on January 24 voted down a Democratic-supported measure to reopen the government. The bill failed by a 52-to-44 vote.
Party Leaders Are Talking
At press time on January 24, there was talk on Capitol Hill that Party leaders would go back to the drawing board in efforts to craft a mutually agreeable legislative plan to fully reopen the government. Whether Party leaders will settle on a short term Continuing Resolution (CR) or a longer term plan to fund the government through the fiscal year remains to be seen.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on January 24 that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kan., asked to speak with him in his office. Later in the day, as Schumer emerged from McConnell’s office at the U.S. Capitol, the Democratic Leader told reporters, “We’re talking.”
By Jessica Jeane, Senior News Editor