January 24, 2019 / 12:12 AM / 9 months ago

House tax panel cancels hearing on shutdown impact

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives tax committee said on Wednesday he had canceled a hearing on the impact of the partial government shutdown on the Internal Revenue Service and the federal tax season because Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin declined to attend.

Representative Richard Neal, the Democratic chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement that the panel wanted to hear from Mnuchin “to gain greater clarity regarding the IRS’ capabilities during the shutdown” in the hearing scheduled for Thursday.

“The Secretary declined to come speak with us, so I am cancelling the hearing,” Neal said, adding that he expected Mnuchin “to come answer our questions in the very near future.”

Neal told reporters he would propose more dates for Mnuchin to consider and said he hoped a hearing could be arranged for as early as next week.

“I’m disappointed,” Neal said. “The historic role of the Treasury secretary is to appear before the Ways and Means Committee at the start of any legislative session.”

Mnuchin last week declined Neal’s request to testify at the planned hearing, and the Treasury Department offered to send other senior officials knowledgeable about the issues.

The U.S. tax filing season is set to begin on Jan. 28 and last until the April 15 filing deadline.

About one-quarter of the federal government has been shut down for more than a month over Republican President Donald Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion to fund a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, which Democrats oppose. Nearly 800,000 federal employees are receiving no pay.

The Internal Revenue Service, which is overseen by Treasury, said last week it would bring more than 46,000 furloughed employees back to work to handle tax filings, refunds and other tasks.

Neal said reports indicated the IRS is unprepared. “We are also extremely worried about the wellbeing 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,” he said in his statement.

Representative Judy Chu, speaking to reporters after exiting an evening meeting of Democratic members of the committee, said Neal had a “productive” telephone call with Mnuchin on Wednesday.

Representative Mike Thompson said Ways and Means Committee Democrats were not considering trying to compel Mnuchin to testify via subpoena. “I didn’t hear the s-word mentioned,” he told reporters as he left the meeting.

Reporting by David Morgan; Writing by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Leslie Adler

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