Controversy over Trump’s taxes hurts chances for reform

Will President Trump ever release his tax returns?

Quizzed on that issue earlier this week, Trump press secretary Sean Spicer responded, “We’ll have to get back to you on that.”

According to the president, an ongoing Internal Revenue Service audit prevents him from releasing his returns. Many tax experts say otherwise.

Critics, meanwhile, say Trump is the first major presidential candidate in 40 years not to release his returns, although that glosses over some inconsistencies.

In 2004, for instance, Democratic nominee John Kerry never released the returns of his wife, Teresa Heinz, heir to a ketchup fortune. Heinz eventually released a summary of her 2003 taxes, which were filed separately from Kerry’s.

History aside, it’s a given that Democrats will insist President Trump release his returns. Now, some Republicans say Trump needs to provide more financial information, including Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina.

“I do think this issue will come back and bite him on the butt,” said GOP Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois, who’s generally a Trump loyalist.

From the perspective of Congress, it will be hard to pass any major tax reform while the president’s own tax records are withheld from public view.

Norman Eisen, director of Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, a left-leaning watchdog group, has offered some talking points that may give pause to any tax reform supporter.

“At a minimum, before this administration even thinks of proposing any changes to the tax code, we should see what tax code provisions the president himself has been and is taking advantage of, and how much tax he has paid in the past few years,” Eisen said.

“Otherwise we are bound to end up with a deal where the rest of us pay yet more tax while he, and probably his business partners and political allies, pay less. The ‘art of the deal’ for him, perhaps, but for the rest of us it’s the ‘art of the steal.'”

We would hope that the true goal of any new tax legislation is economic growth and job-creating investments.

The president still has a chance to sell that message — but can it be heard if his own returns remain a mystery?