Monday, April 29, 2019
George K. Yin (Virginia), Testimony Before the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee on Legislative Proposals and Tax Law Related to Presidential and Vice-Presidential Tax Returns:
This submission is the testimony provided to the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee in February 2019 on the ability of the chairman of the committee to obtain and disclose the tax return information of any taxpayer including the president. It describes the controlling law, the circumstances in which the chairman's request should be respected, and the conditions for disclosing the information to the public.
Conclusion. The tax committees have two separate authorities — they may obtain the tax return information of any taxpayer from the Treasury, and may submit any of the information obtained to the House or Senate for possible disclosure to the public. Each action requires the committee to have a legitimate purpose, meaning generally a purpose that furthers a constitutional responsibility of Congress. Since the authority to submit might result in disclosure of the information to the public, the committee should exercise it only if the committee has a legitimate purpose for disclosing the information to the public.
In addition, because the tax committee authority is the sole means by which Congress can make public disclosures of tax return information, the authority should be interpreted in a manner that does not frustrate Congress’s informing function with respect to such information. In 1976, Congress in effect placed tax return information in a locked safe but did not throw away all of the keys for purposes of disclosing such information to the public. Rather, it preserved just one key for that purpose and gave it to the tax committees. The law therefore should be interpreted to enable the tax committees to use the key in appropriate and necessary circumstances.