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US Rep. Richard Neal cancels shutdown hearing after Treasury secretary declines to go before panel

January 24, 2019
In The News

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal moved this week to cancel a Thursday House Ways and Means Committee hearing on the federal government shutdown’s impacts after Treasury Department Secretary Steven Mnuchin declined his invitation to speak before the tax-writing panel.

Neal, a Springfield Democrat who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said late Wednesday that while panel members “have urgent concerns they’d like to raise” with Mnuchin, “the secretary declined to come speak with us" -- thus forcing him to scrap the hearing.

The chairman, however, said he expects Mnuchin “to come answer our questions in the very near future,” particularly as the Treasury Department gears up to begin processing tax returns and refunds during the shutdown.

“We need to hear directly from the secretary to gain greater clarity regarding the IRS’ capabilities during the shutdown,” he said in a statement.

Pointing to reports suggesting that the agency may be unprepared for the new tax filing season due to the now 34-day federal funding lapse, Neal said lawmakers are “extremely worried about the well-being of the more than 70,000 Treasury employees who are about to miss their second paycheck in a row, including 45,000 employees who are expected to work without pay.”

The chairman, in a Jan. 16 letter, asked Mnuchin to testify before the House Ways and Means Committee on how the partial government shutdown has impacted the agency and its preparedness for the upcoming tax filing season.

Specifically, the Massachusetts Democrat asked the secretary to tell lawmakers and the American people how the Treasury plans to move forward with the tax filing season if the shutdown continues past its Jan. 28 start date.

Jennifer Bang, the Treasury deputy assistant secretary, however, said that instead of Mnuchin, the agency would offer testimony from senior Treasury and IRS officials who know more about the situation, according to The Hill.

“The department has acted in good faith to meet the committee’s legitimate need for information concerning the impact of the current shutdown,” she reportedly wrote in a letter responding to the chairman’s request.

“If the purpose of the upcoming hearing is to inform Congress and the public, we are confident that goal will be best served by testimony from the senior Department officials with the deepest and broadest expertise on the subject of the hearing, as outlined in your invitation and in the press release that accompanied it," she continued.

Neal’s letter came shortly after the Internal Revenue Service announced it would move forward with the new tax filing season and released a contingency plan recalling more than 45,000 of the agency’s furloughed employees to work without pay.

The shutdown began late last month when funding ran out for nine Cabinet-level departments and various agencies after Congress and the White House failed to reach an agreement on border security spending.

President Donald Trump has pledged to oppose any spending bill that does not include $5 billion for his proposed border wall. Democratic leaders, in turn, have rejected the president’s push to build a wall along the United States' southern border with Mexico.