One of the most frustrating aspects of Democrats’ tenure in the House of Representatives majority has been how slowly the caucus has moved to obtain Donald Trump’s tax returns. The public interest reasons for wanting to see Trump’s tax information are sound: Every other modern president or presidential candidate has released his or her returns voluntarily, and there is reason to believe that Trump’s could contain evidence of fraud and corruption in office. It’s an urgent matter of legitimate civic concern, not just partisan advantage.
But Rep. Richard Neal of western Massachusetts, who is handling the job in his role as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, has slow-played the process. Neal didn’t ask the IRS for the returns until April, didn’t file a lawsuit contesting the agency’s refusal to hand them over until July, and intentionally passed up an opportunity to obtain the president’s state returns from New York. In August an anonymous House Democrat told the Washington Post that Neal has “no enthusiasm” for the confrontational posture the tax return issue requires; sources told the paper that when discussing the subject, he “frequently tells stories of bipartisan cooperation under former Ways and Means Committee leaders, particularly Rep. Dan Rostenkowski.” Rostenkowski was an Illinois congressman whose career ended when he was imprisoned on a fraud conviction.
Neal is not, however, interested in stalling all his Trump-related work. One thing he’s moving briskly on is his effort to help Trump pass the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement, the administration’s signature NAFTA replacement plan. Neal went to Mexico this week with several other pro-USMCA Dems, meeting with Mexican officials including President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in an attempt to negotiate the implementation of labor standards in that country that would make the agreement more acceptable to union leaders in the U.S. In a Washington Post interview published Wednesday, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said his group is not yet satisfied and does not want the USMCA as currently constituted to pass the House; countervailing pressure to pass it as soon as possible is being applied by the Trump administration (which has obvious political reasons for doing so) and business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (which have obvious self-interested reasons for doing so).
What Neal is doing, then, is helping orchestrate a reprise of 2018’s bank deregulation fiasco, in which purportedly moderate, regular-voter-minded Democrats backed a “bipartisan” bill that didn’t have organic support from anyone except high-dollar corporate donors. Neal wasn’t centrally involved in that process, but he’s been a key figure behind other proposals that have been similarly criticized by consumer advocates and good-government watchdogs, like a provision in a tax bill that would have benefited tax preparation companies by prohibiting the IRS from developing its own free e-filing system and a provision in a retirement bill that would benefit life insurance companies that sell predatory annuities to 401(k) providers. (The e-file provision was dropped before passage; the retirement bill, the SECURE Act, hasn’t yet been taken up in the Senate.)
Maybe the best way to get Richard Neal to actually obtain Trump’s tax returns would be to have a corporate PAC ask for them?