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Senate confirms new IRS chief
The Senate on Wednesday confirmed President Trump's nominee to lead the IRS, as the agency works to implement the tax-cut law the president signed last year.
The chamber voted 64-33 to confirm Charles Rettig to be IRS commissioner for the remainder of a five-year term ending in November 2022. Fifteen Democrats voted in favor of Rettig, including several Democrats up for reelection in states Trump won and several who voted against Rettig's nomination in the Finance committee.
The confirmation vote comes as the IRS faces a host of challenges. In addition to the work it needs to do to implement the 2017 tax law, the agency is also dealing with a shrunken workforce, outdated technology and threats from cyber criminals.
The IRS has not had a permanent commissioner since November, when the term of former President Obama's appointee, John Koskinen, ended. For the last 10 months, David Kautter, the Treasury Department assistant secretary for tax policy, has been serving as acting IRS commissioner.
Rettig is a Beverly Hills, Calif., attorney who has represented clients in disputes with the IRS. He also has served on an IRS advisory council and held leadership roles in professional organizations for lawyers.
During his confirmation hearing in June, Rettig said he would restore "trust" between the IRS and the public, and would run the agency in an "impartial and unbiased manner."
Republicans have praised the nomination, saying that Rettig has the right experience for the job.
"I look forward to this nominee getting to work on behalf of the American taxpayers," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Democrats have also said in the past they think Rettig is qualified to be IRS commissioner. But they largely opposed his nomination because they disapprove of recent IRS guidance items.
One piece of guidance Democrats have blasted limits the disclosure of donor information. The IRS released guidance in July under which certain tax-exempt groups - including social-welfare organizations such as the National Rifle Association - no longer have to provide the agency with the names and addresses of their significant donors on annual forms.
Republicans said the guidance will help prevent taxpayers from being singled out for their political beliefs, but Democrats have expressed concerns that the guidance will make it easier for foreign governments to influence U.S. elections.
"The Trump administration has weaponized the tax code to punish its political adversaries and benefit shadowy far-right groups that seek to buy American elections," said Senate Finance Committee ranking Democrat Ron Wyden (Ore.).
Democrats have also criticized rules the IRS proposed in August to crack down on blue states' workarounds to the new tax law's $10,000 cap on the state and local tax deduction. The deduction is particularly important in Democrat-heavy areas such as New York, New Jersey and California.
"I can't in good conscience support this nominee," said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.). "He won't protect New Jersey's middle class."
Menendez added that he thinks Rettig will be "nothing more than a Republican rubber stamp for President Trump's politically motivated tax policies."