Politics Leak of billionaires' tax data draws GOP outcry over privacy
The Lab-Leak Trap
Recent coverage has ensnared readers in semantic quibbles, side points, and distractions. To focus better on what really matters, watch out for these traps:The No-Evidence TrapIt would be confusing—merely confusing—if no one could agree on the strength of the evidence for a laboratory accident. But certain pundits have suggested that we’re still completely in the dark.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans in Congress are alarmed byto the investigative news organization ProPublica, enabling it to reveal that famous billionaires including Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg paid little in U.S. income tax at times. A senior IRS official said Thursday that a federal criminal investigation into the leak has been requested.
Taking a detour from the debate over President Joe Biden’s tax overhaul plan, the GOP lawmakers are demanding to know how the private tax data was disclosed and they are pressing the Treasury Department and the IRS to pursue anyone who violated the law.
Is China to Blame for a Hypothetical Lab Leak?
The epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch explains that the risky virus research done at the Wuhan Institute has complex rootsProminent scientists long on the sideline, like Scott Gottlieb and Peter Hotez, have begun echoing calls for a deeper investigation. Both the National Security Council and the Director of National Intelligence have made a point of emphasizing their agreement with the previous administration that the pandemic’s origins are a very open — and very important — question.
“Taxpayers must have the utmost confidence in federal institutions that house their personal and confidential information,” a group of Republican senators said in letters demanding an investigation. “Regrettably, it appears personnel with access to Americans’ personal and confidential information are misusing protected information for political reasons. Treasury and the IRS must hold accountable any and all individuals who broke federal law by inappropriately sharing the confidential tax information and tax returns of multiple Americans.”
Key House Republicans demand DOJ documents in leak of billionaires' tax records
The top Republicans on three House committees are ratcheting up pressure on the Biden administration after private tax information about thousands of the country’s wealthiest people was leaked to the media. © Provided by Washington Examiner Reps. James Comer from Kentucky of the Oversight Committee; Jim Jordan from Ohio of the Judiciary Committee; and Rodney Davis from Illinois of the Administration Committee sent Attorney General Merrick Garland a letter inquiring about the Justice Department’s efforts to investigate the massive trove of documents leaked to investigative nonprofit organization ProPublica.
Douglas O'Donnell, a deputy IRS commissioner, said at a hearing by a House panel that the Treasury Department, which oversees the IRS, has referred the matter for investigation to the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office in the District of Columbia.
Both getting access to and disclosing the confidential tax data are problems, O'Donnell said. “We too want to know what happened, urgently."
The law provides for potential criminal penalties for federal employees or other individuals who leak tax information.
Opinion: America's tax system is rigged to protect the rich and powerful
Jeffrey Sachs writes the US tax system is designed to protect wealthy individuals and powerful corporations, and it is breaking the country in more ways than one. Much of the Republican Party lives and breathes to protect the rich and powerful from paying taxes, and Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia too often side with them. Meanwhile, public opinion -- strongly supporting higher taxes on wealthy Americans and corporations -- counts for little because the rich have undue influence over the political class. © Getty Images But the severity of the problem cannot be overstated.
The ProPublica report published Tuesday on the wealthiest people in America was based on IRS data — long held as sacrosanct — delivered by an anonymous source.
For Democrats, the revelations affirmed their long-standing accusations that the IRS gives big corporations and wealthy individuals a free pass while hounding lower-income people. Democrats held up the new report as a prime exhibit in the national dialogue over the vast and widening inequality between the wealthiest and everyone else.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said in a tweet: “Our tax system is rigged for billionaires who don’t make their fortunes through income, like working families do. The evidence is abundantly clear: it is time for a #WealthTax in America to make the ultra-rich finally pay their fair share.″
The report showed that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos paid no income tax in 2007 and 2011. Tesla founder Elon Musk’s income tax bill was zero in 2018. Financier George Soros went three straight years without paying federal income tax. Overall, the richest 25 Americans pay less in tax — an average of 15.8% of adjusted gross income — than many ordinary workers do, once taxes for Social Security and Medicare are included, ProPublica found.
Top Republicans call for probe into 'egregious' leak of billionaires' tax return data
Republican lawmakers are calling for answers about how troves of IRS tax documents tied to the wealthiest people in the world ended up getting leaked to the media. © Provided by Washington Examiner Rep. Kevin Brady, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, along with Senate Finance Committee ranking member Sen. Mike Crapo on Wednesday evening, demanded answers from IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig about the “egregious and illegal” release of tax returns to ProPublica.
They all used perfectly legal tax strategies, which is why the ProPublica report stoked the debate over the loopholes, shelters and offshore havens available to the wealthy and giant corporations courtesy of the federal tax code.
The report intruded on the debate over Biden’s sweeping tax plan, which must be approved by Congress. Seeking revenue to finance his multitrillion-dollar plan to boost infrastructure, families, education and job training, Biden is targeting the wealthy for higher taxes. He wants to raise the top tax rate to 39.6% for people earning $400,000 a year or more in taxable income, estimated to be fewer than 2% of U.S. households. The top tax rate that workers pay on salaries and wages now is 37%.
Biden proposes to nearly double the tax rate that high-earning Americans pay on profits from stocks and other investments. Inherited capital gains would no longer be tax-free. The plan also would raise taxes on corporations, affecting wealthy investors who own corporate stocks.
Opinion: The rich got richer while millions lost their livelihoods. It's time for a wealth tax
It's time to modernize the federal tax code — not only to raise revenue and ensure the wealthy pay their fair share, but also to slow these democracy-distorting levels of concentrated wealth and power. The ProPublica report shows that 25 billionaires paid a true tax rate of just 3.4% on their gains between 2014 and 2018. Several billionaires paid zero taxes in some years over a more-than 15-year period, despite reaping historic wealth gains. This information especially stings during a pandemic when millions have lost their livelihoods, savings and health, if not their lives.
As they raise the alarm on privacy of tax data, Republicans also are denouncing what they see as a related intrusion: a new financial reporting proposal that is nestled in Biden's tax plan. Aimed at helping the IRS collect taxes, it would call for U.S. banks to report to the agency most flows into and out of personal and business accounts, including bank loans and investment accounts. Banks aren’t wild about it, either.
The aim is to give the IRS a better view of underreported income by individuals and businesses, according to the plan architects. Wealthier taxpayers’ earnings from investments and business activities would be reported to the IRS the way wages and salaries are.
Republican lawmakers see it as an assault on taxpayers’ privacy.
The requirement would bring “a drastic increase in the amount of private, sensitive information reported to the IRS by financial institutions about deposits or withdrawals made by any individual or business in savings, checking, or other accounts of as little as $600,” the senior Republicans in tax policy, Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho and Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, told IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig in a letter. “Taxpayers who are already concerned about having their local banks turned into monitoring and reporting agents of the IRS now must also worry about whether data collected and reported to the agency are secure.”
Republicans demand CRIMINAL charges for tax leaker
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is demanding a criminal investigation into the leaking of confidential tax information, insisting that whoever was responsible be imprisoned. He wants the Justice Department and FBI to investigate who released information about some of the country's wealthiest taxpayers including Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Warren Buffet.'Our tax returns are, by law, confidential because of just this kind of shenanigans,' he told conservative host Hugh Hewitt's radio show.'These people, ought to, whoever did this, ought to be hunted down and thrown into jail.
An array of trade groups representing big and small banks and credit unions have objected to the proposal, saying their members already provide “significant data” to the IRS and other regulators. The proposal “would impose cost and complexity that are not justified by the potential, and highly uncertain, benefits,” the groups said in a recent statement to a Senate panel.
Follow Marcy Gordon on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mgordonap
House Republicans demand hearing with Biden administration over billionaire tax leaks .
Republicans are calling for Biden administration officials to testify in Congress about the thousands of the country’s wealthiest people who had their IRS tax records leaked. © Provided by Washington Examiner GOP Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, the ranking member on the House Oversight Committee, led a letter from his Republican colleagues addressed to Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney of New York on Wednesday that called on her to hold a hearing to understand who is responsible for the explosive leaks.