Mnuchin refuses to testify at hearing on shutdown impacts

Mnuchin refuses to testify at hearing on shutdown impacts
© Greg Nash

The Treasury Department is refusing to have department secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinThe Hill's Morning Report - Democratic debates: Miami nice or spice? Consumer confidence fell in June amid Trump tariff threats: report Democratic lawmaker calls Trump a 'moron' for his handling of Iran MORE testify before the House Ways and Means Committee next week, after the Democratic chairman of the tax-writing panel requested that he speak at a hearing about the government shutdown's impact on the department. 

In a letter Thursday to Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealOn The Money: Powell asserts Fed's independence amid new Trump attacks | House approves 3 billion spending package | CBO projects 'unprecedented' debt levels by 2049 | Democrats struggle with Trump tax law provision Democrats struggle with repeal of key Trump tax provision Trump's tax returns — DOJ trying to put off the inevitable? MORE (D-Mass.), Treasury deputy assistant secretary Jennifer Bang said that instead of Mnuchin, the department is offering testimony from senior Treasury and IRS officials "who are most knowledgeable concerning the lapse plans now in place for the Department and its bureaus."

Neal on Wednesday sent a letter inviting Mnuchin to testify about the partial government shutdown's impact on Treasury and taxpayers. Treasury, which houses the IRS, is one of the departments whose funding has lapsed.

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Treasury on Tuesday released a shutdown contingency plan for the IRS for the tax-filing season, under which more than half of the IRS employees will be working during the filing period. But Democrats continue to have questions about how the upcoming tax-filing season will work during the shutdown.

Ways and Means Committee Democrats said that they had expected to be briefed by IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig about the plan on Wednesday, but the meeting was cancelled and the IRS wouldn't make Rettig available to the panel.

Treasury said in its letter that they offered to have IRS deputy commissioners brief committee members, but the panel declined the offer and instead staff members received a briefing. The department said that Neal's staff requested the hearing with Mnuchin before the staff briefing had finished.

"The Department has acted in good faith to meet the Committee's legitimate need for information concerning the impact of the current shutdown," Treasury said in its letter. "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."

Neal urged Mnuchin to reconsider his request to appear before the committee. He noted that Mnuchin's trip to Davos, Switzerland, next week has been cancelled. 

“With more than 70,000 Treasury employees furloughed and missing paychecks, I strongly believe Secretary Mnuchin himself should appear before our committee and answer members’ questions," Neal said.