Wednesday marked the tenth time that the House has voted on resolutions requesting President Trump’s tax returns. And for Rep. Erik Paulsen, it marked yet another missed opportunity to stand up for government transparency.
Before being elected last year, Donald Trump broke with the longstanding tradition of presidential candidates releasing their tax returns. Because he was under an IRS audit, Trump insisted, he could not make his tax returns public. In fact, there’s nothing preventing anyone from releasing their tax returns while they’re being audited – even Richard Nixon did it.
Trump’s Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, had released 38 years of prior tax returns by election day last year.
Initially, Trump promised to publish his tax returns when the audit was complete. But since being elected in November, Trump and his surrogates have issued over half a dozen excuses as to why he has not yet fulfilled that promise.
According to a January poll conducted by ABC News and The Washington Post, however, 74 percent of Americans – including 53 percent of Republicans – agreed that Trump should release his tax returns. Another poll conducted by Quinnipiac University found that 63 percent of Americans favored legislation requiring all future presidential candidates to release the previous few years of their tax returns.
In May, Trump reneged completely on the promise to release his tax returns. In an interview with The Economist, Trump said “I might release them after I’m out of office.”
But our country can’t afford to wait until Trump is out of office to find out what he’s hiding. Knowing what the president’s tax returns contain is crucial if our democracy is to function properly. As Conor Friersdorf of The Atlantic wrote earlier this year, “Congress cannot fulfill its constitutional duty to check and balance [Trump], or provide adequate oversight of the federal agencies he presides over, without a full, accurate understanding of his business holdings and debts.”
While Trump’s personal tax returns would not disclose his debts, they would go a ways toward illuminating many of his business investments.
Back in February, the House had a chance to do just that. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) invoked an obscure 1924 law that gives congressional committees that deal with tax policy to examine tax returns. But the move was rejected on a party-line vote. Rep. Erik Paulsen was among the 23 Republicans who refused to support Pascrell’s amendment.
Paulsen could have chosen to stand up to the president and to his party and voted in favor of transparency. Indeed, that’s exactly what two of his Republican colleagues – Reps. Mark Sanford of South Carolina and Walter Jones Jr. of North Carolina – did recently when they signed a letter calling for the congressional committees that oversee the IRS to request copies of Trump’s tax returns. Unfortunately, Paulsen put partisan politics before the good of the country.
Even the Star Tribune, a newspaper that endorsed Paulsen in last year’s election, criticized him in an editorial when he voted against the February resolution. “Sadly,” the Tribune editorial read, “Minnesota Rep. Erik Paulsen was among those voting with the majority on the Ways and Means Committee to shield Trump’s tax returns. We expect more independence from Paulsen than this. When the Editorial Board endorsed him in November over a strong Democratic challenger, it was with the expectation that he would take a stronger leadership role in Congress. This is an instance where leadership is needed.”
But Paulsen continues to decline every opportunity to demonstrate that leadership. When a similar resolution made it to markup in the House Ways and Means Committee in March, he again voted it down along with the rest of his party. And he was silent this week when another resolution designed to drag Trump’s personal and business tax filings into the light came to the House floor.
To date, there are only four years of publicly available data on the president’s tax returns. In 1978 and 1979, Trump reportedly lost almost $4 million and paid no taxes. In 1995, he reported losing $916 million. And in 2005, he earned $150 million and paid $38 million in taxes.
The American people have a right to know what the president is hiding and why. What will it take for Erik Paulsen to stand up for us and demand the truth?
Featured image via YouTube.