Democrats didn’t like Charles Rettig when he was Donald Trump’s IRS Commissioner. One lawmaker even said it was so bad it literally belonged to jail.
But Democrats like Rettig now that he’s Joe Biden’s IRS Commissioner, and no one has called for him to be fired like other remnants of the Trump administration.
The IRS is at the heart of the Democrats’ domestic policy agenda, and Rettig has done his job enthusiastically – not only making sure millions of child tax credit payments are made every month, but also helping the Biden administration in its efforts for much stricter enforcement of the IRS. .
Several Congressional Democrats praised Rettig on HuffPost, saying they had a good working relationship and he was a competent administrator.
“His work on implementing the expansion of the Child Tax Credit has been important because it has been one of Washington’s most transformative policies in generations,” said Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).
Rettig, 64, doesn’t have much political experience, having had a long career representing high net worth clients under IRS audit before Donald Trump put him in charge of the IRS, an agency that Republicans have vilified it for decades.
From the start, Rettig sent an important signal about how he would do the job.
During his confirmation hearing in 2018, Rettig said he hoped to “dramatically narrow the tax gap”, the revenue that the IRS misses mainly because of non-payment from wealthy people like its former clients, whose incomes are often not reported regularly. payroll forms. The tax gap is not a top priority for Republicans, but Rettig also said he wanted to modernize the IRS’s computer system and would resist political pressure. Fifteen Democrats ultimately joined with all Republicans that year in voting to confirm him as commissioner.
“People change their attitude when their job is at stake.”
– Representative Bill Pascrell (DN.J.)
Some of the good vibes wore off after Democrats won the House of Representatives and asked Rettig to turn over copies of Trump’s tax returns, in accordance with a federal law that says the Treasury Department “shall” provide all statements requested by tax policy committees.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin – the Cabinet official overseeing the IRS at the time – stepped in to deny the request, which had been made to Rettig. Asked by Democrats on Capitol Hill, Rettig tried to stay out, noting that the IRS is just a treasury office.
This was the first time the IRS has refused to file a requested tax return, as far as everyone knows, and it amounted to an outright breach of federal law, as many Democrats have pointed out. at the time. Rep. Bill Pascrell (DN.J.) even went so far as to say that Mnuchin and Rettig should be locked up.
“If they say no to the end, then I would put them in jail until the end,” Pascrell said in May 2019. “It’s the law of the land.”
Pascrell told HuffPost this month that he wasn’t sure if he still believed Rettig should go to jail and that he would like to know more about the decision to withhold the statements. He came up with a simple theory for Rettig’s solid job as Biden’s IRS commissioner.
“People change their attitude when their job is at stake,” he said.
Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), another big supporter of getting Trump’s tax returns, said Rettig needs to be ideologically flexible. “I would definitely prefer to have a new IRS commissioner,” Doggett said.
Under Biden, the Treasury Department has said it will comply with Democrats’ demand for Trump’s returns, and the only remaining hurdle is a Trump-appointed judge taking his time making a decision in the case.
In a statement to HuffPost, Rettig said he took the same approach to his work under both administrations: “I believe in our country and am committed to helping the tax administration and everyone who interacts with the IRS, including our employees, taxpayers, tax professionals and Congress. “
Rettig is serving a set sentence which is not until next year. Congress has given some agency officials terms that do not correspond to changes in administration in order to isolate their work from the politics of the day.
Former IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, who served under both Barack Obama and Trump, said Rettig had done a good job moving from administration to administration and that was normal for a political candidate with a five-year term.
“The aim is for the tax administration to be apolitical and for the commissioner’s term to be structured as a five-year term to make it clear that this is not a normal political appointment,” Koskinen said in a statement. E-mail.
But the idea of isolating agency heads from politics might be wishful thinking, and its days might be numbered. The Supreme Court said last year that Trump has every right to fire the director of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection before his term ends, and the court this year blessed Biden’s dismissal of the head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
Too many restrictions on a president’s ability to fire people and control his own administration, the court found in these cases, violates the separation of powers between different branches of government. Biden used this year’s decision to then get rid of Trump’s remainder in the Social Security Administration.
It’s probably important to have a team player at the IRS, an increasingly important office for domestic politics. When Congress wanted to send pandemic relief checks to everyone in America, it asked the IRS to do so. When Democrats wanted to create a monthly allowance for parents, they asked the IRS to do so.
Some doubted the IRS could start these child tax credit payments by July, less than three months after the law was passed, but Rettig assured lawmakers it would work and so far the program seems to have worked as well as expected, if not better.
The problem with using the IRS for family allowances is that low-income people don’t have to file federal income tax returns, so the IRS didn’t have an established way to reach them. The office has tried to reach out through local nonprofits and creating an online portal where parents can sign up for payments. At the beginning, the the website was of poor quality, and didn’t even work on smartphones, but the IRS made improvements after Democrats like Brown and Sen. Ron Wyden (R-Ore.) complained.
“He was responsive when I reported issues to him, like the first website accessibility issues during deployment, and worked to resolve them immediately,” Brown said.
“Personally, I don’t think he just does what the administration says.
– Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho)
Rettig also kept his promise to tackle the tax gap. At the time of his confirmation hearing, the latest IRS estimate of the deviation, for the years 2011 to 2013, estimated the annual amount of missing revenue at $ 441 billion. At a Senate Finance Committee hearing in April, Rettig described more recent research and dropped a bomb.
“I think it would not be absurd to believe that the real tax gap could approach and possibly exceed $ 1 trillion per year,” he said.
Rettig’s claim that mostly wealthy taxpayers are avoiding taxes to the tune of a trillion dollars came just as Democrats were preparing to offer new funding and tools to the IRS to find the missing revenues to help pay for major new social policies. .
“It changed the debate,” Wyden, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, told HuffPost.
“It surprised me that he said that,” said Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), the committee’s top Republican, who added that his staff were doing their own research on the matter.
As part of the Build Back Better Act, the bill Democrats are struggling to tinker with this fall, they offered an additional $ 80 billion to the IRS to close the tax gap, which the Congressional Budget says Office, would bring in $ 200 billion in new revenue. .
Another key proposal, which the Biden administration said would raise $ 400 billion, would require banks to notify the IRS of money flowing in personal or business accounts containing more than $ 600. Republicans don’t like the idea of more money for the IRS, but they hate the idea of banks telling the IRS what’s in their clients’ accounts, what they call an invasion of privacy.
Rettig fought hard for the proposal, endorsing it in testimony and letters to lawmakers and describing it as part of an overall IRS modernization effort. Rather than an affront to privacy, Rettig said in a letter to Representative Richard Neal (D-Mass.) Last month, “improved reporting of information could lead to fewer audits of compliant taxpayers, their saving time and money and increasing efficiency for the IRS.
Rettig told HuffPost that the administration’s proposals “present a historic opportunity to create a more equitable and efficient tax system that will benefit all Americans as well as future generations of Americans,” adding that it is “essential that the IRS is able to provide high quality services. service to the nation’s taxpayers.
Crapo said he agreed with Rettig that the IRS needs to modernize and provide good service. “But that doesn’t mean you have to have these diets,” he said.
Crapo doesn’t think Rettig is just a tool of the administration, however.
“I don’t personally think he is just doing what the administration says,” Crapo said. “He believes in it a lot. “