The House on Thursday passed a bill that would require annual audits of the president’s tax returns, codifying IRS policy after a congressional committee revealed that the agency did not audit former President Trump during two years he was in office.
The legislation, titled the Presidential Tax Filings and Audit Transparency Act, passed in a 222-201 vote. Five Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the measure: Reps. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), Fred Upton (Mich.), Liz Cheney (Wyo.), John Katko (N.Y.) and Tom Rice (S.C.).
IRS policy requires that sitting presidents are audited every year — which has been the case since 1977 — but the terms are outlined in the agency’s regulatory manual, not federal law. The bill at hand would codify those terms into law.
The House took up the bill after the House Ways and Means Committee voted on Tuesday to release the report of its investigation into how the IRS’s mandatory audit program was run under the Trump administration. The vote also greenlighted the release of six years of Trump’s tax returns, but they have not yet been published because officials are making redactions.
The report revealed that the IRS did not audit Trump in 2017 and 2018, despite the agency’s mandatory audit program for occupants of the White House. The then-president filed tax returns in 2017 and 2018, but the agency first audited him in 2019. The agency opened the examination on April 3 of that year — the same day Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), the chair of the committee, asked then-IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig for the president’s tax returns.
The legislation considered on Thursday specifically calls for audits of presidential tax returns and those of other entities controlled by the commander in chief to be carried out as quickly as possible after the information is filed. Additionally, the bill would mandate that the president’s tax returns are disclosed within 90 days of them being filed.
During debate on the House floor Thursday, Neal said his committee began probing the IRS’s mandatory presidential auditing four years ago to understand how the agency “was handling the stress of a president with complex finances.”
“The Committee expected to find that the mandatory examinations were conducted promptly, and that more staff had been dedicated to the program to meet the more rigorous demands. Instead, after years of stonewalling and litigation ending at the Supreme Court, the Committee found that, for all practical purposes, the mandatory audit program was dormant,” he said.
“It wasn’t just functioning poorly — it was not functioning at all,” he added.
The chairman said the “best available recourse” after the agency “failed to administer” its own policy “is for Congress to fill this void with legislation that eliminates the IRS’s discretion in the matter.”
“That’s what we are doing today,” he added.
Republicans stated their opposition to the bill during debate on the floor Thursday, while also slamming Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee for voting to release Trump’s tax returns.
Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), the ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee, called the bill a “charade” and an “excuse that for years has been used to justify the political targeting of former President Trump.”
The Texas Republican also took issue with the quickness with which the House brought the bill up for consideration.
“We strongly oppose this bill today, not because portions of it doesn’t have merit — some do — but it has serious flaws, of course, because it didn’t exist 48 hours ago. And had it been brought forward four years ago, three years ago, two years ago, as an honest attempt to improve presidential audits, I’m convinced we could have found common ground with no need to expose private tax returns of anyone,” he said.
“But not now, not this bill, and not this way. Republicans will not support any measure whose only purpose is to provide cover for the political targeting of a private citizen,” he added.
— Updated at 9:32 p.m.