Kelly Opening Statement at Hearing on Legislative Proposals and Tax Law Related to Presidential and Vice-Presidential Tax Returns

February 7, 2019 — In Case You Missed It...    — Opening Statements   

WASHINGTON, D.C. –  The top Republican on the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee Mike Kelly (R-PA) delivered the following opening statement at a Subcommittee Hearing on Legislative Proposals and Tax Law Related to Presidential and Vice-Presidential Tax Returns.

Before the start of today’s hearing, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, and Rep. Kelly sent a letter to Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA).  CLICK HERE to read the full letter.

CLICK HERE to watch the hearing.

Remarks as prepared for delivery: 

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing today. 

“As this is my first hearing as the Republican Leader on the Oversight Subcommittee, I want to start by saying that I very much look forward to working together with you, Chairman Lewis — as well as all the other Members of the Subcommittee, specifically on issues of bipartisan concern. 

“Personally, I must say that when I found out we’d be serving together on this Committee, I was particularly delighted.  I so fondly remembered our time in Alabama as we walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge with my grandson back in March of 2015 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery march.  It was a great day.

“I know that you and Chairman Jenkins had a good working relationship, particularly with things like the bill to redesign the IRS, and I would like to continue to build upon that foundation this Congress.

“As to the primary role of this Subcommittee, I believe government oversight is an important role for every Member of Congress — we are the taxpayer’s ‘watchdogs’ here in Washington — as well as legislators.

“Government oversight is critical to the protection of taxpayers and the safety of all Americans.  As Senator Grassley once said ‘oversight is about keeping faith with the taxpayers and giving people confidence that the government plays by the rules or is held accountable.’

“That is the role I hope to play on this Committee and look forward to serving with you in this capacity, Mr. Chairman.

“For today’s hearing, I want to start by stating the obvious — all Americans have a right to privacy in the personal information contained in their tax returns. 

“That’s why we have a statute in law — 6103 — that covers every American from the president to your neighbor and your family.  It mandates that the federal government must keep tax returns and tax return information private.

“Congress enacted taxpayer protections embedded in Section 6103 of the tax code to ensure every American’s privacy and to prevent the abuse of taxpayer information.

“Americans should be able to trust that the federal government or some unelected bureaucrat in Washington is not going to publicly release their tax returns without their consent. 

“Tax returns can have a lot of sensitive information in them.  It’s not all just income, expenses, and deductions.  There can be information on where you live, what you do for a living, what kind of car you drive, information on your bank account, which cell phone is yours, whether you have health insurance, and the names and social security numbers of your spouse and all of your children. 

“Keeping this information confidential is critical to the integrity of the U.S. tax system which is only functional because taxpayers voluntarily pay their taxes. 

“According to the National Taxpayer Advocate, ninety-eight percent of all tax revenue paid by American taxpayers is paid voluntarily. 

“That means only a small percentage of taxes are collected through audits and enforcement.  Ninety-eight percent! 

“Ninety-eight percent of anything is a lot, so I have to take a closer look and ask ‘why?’   I believe this is because of the trust American taxpayers have in our tax system and privacy is at the foundation of that trust.

“Now, some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle have suggested using this Committee as an avenue to obtain and release the President’s tax returns in the name of transparency.  As leaders of the Ways and Means Committee, I don’t believe we have to choose between protecting privacy and promoting the transparency among public officials. 

“To begin with, Congress is prohibited by law from examining and making public the private tax returns of Americans for political purposes.  Such an abuse of power would open a Pandora’s box.  It would set a very dangerous precedent.  And where does it end?  What about the tax returns of the Speaker, Members of Congress, or federal employees?  There is no end in sight for whose tax information may be in jeopardy.

“Thankfully, violating taxpayer privacy is not the only option for increasing transparency.  I support the current ethics reviews in place which ensure presidents and vice presidents are held accountable to taxpayers.  My colleagues on the other side of the aisle have voiced the need to have experts review the President’s tax returns ‘with a fine-toothed comb.’

“But isn’t this the exact reason why the IRS – the agency with just that level of expertise – conducts mandatory audits of the president and vice president every year? 

“Yes, that’s right, the IRS audits the President and the Vice President every single year — regardless of whether he or she is Republican or Democrat.

“I don’t think most Americans know that’s the case.  I certainly didn’t know until I started doing some research and inquiring.

“In addition to annual IRS audits, there are also annual financial disclosures required.  If my colleagues have valid concerns with the financial disclosure requirements, then let’s come together to legislate a thoughtful solution to require additional disclosures.

“If there are challenges in obtaining required documents for disclosure, then let’s look at how we can make that process better — and more transparent. 

“But the reckless sharing of a taxpayer’s private information for political purposes would be unprecedented and completely outside of the bounds of Congress’s role as a legislative body.

“Our role of oversight should not be that of overreach.  We can do better.

“Therefore, I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on how to do that better — that is, how best to protect the American taxpayer.”