A closely divided Senate Finance Committee advanced the nominee for the next Internal Revenue Service commissioner, Charles Rettig, by a vote of 14 to 13, but he awaits a vote by the full Senate.

Rettig is a tax attorney at the Beverly Hills law firm Hochman, Salkin, Rettig, Toscher & Perez, P.C. who has spent most of his career representing clients before the IRS. If he is confirmed by the full Senate, he would succeed acting commissioner David Kautter, who is also the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Tax Policy. Kautter has been acting commissioner since the end of John Koskinen’s term last November. Rettig would be coming in at a time when the IRS is dealing with the massive tax cuts law that Congress passed last December.

“For the IRS to implement the biggest tax overhaul in a generation, it is essential that the agency is fully staffed and led by a strong, capable commissioner,” said Senate Finance Committee chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, in a statement. “The job of commissioner is further complicated by years of mistrust and scandals at the agency. Chuck Rettig is the right pick to both implement tax reform and restore trust in the IRS. I am pleased that the committee advanced his nomination, and I look forward to the Senate acting quickly on his nomination so he can get started on the hefty tasks he will be charged with as the agency’s leader.”

IRS commissioner nominee Charles Rettig
IRS commissioner nominee Charles Rettig at Senate confirmation hearing Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

However, Democrats on the committee voted against confirming Rettig, in part as a protest against the IRS and the Treasury Department’s decision this week to let 501(c)4 tax-exempt organizations, such as political action groups, avoid listing the names of their donors (see Many political tax-exempts no longer required to report donors).

“The Trump administration has taken a qualified nominee and dumped him right in the middle of a dark-money political firestorm of their own creation,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the ranking Democrat on the committee. “And a radical change in tax law regarding transparency and disclosure has dragged the IRS and Treasury into a swirling set of questions about the president’s foreign financial ties and motivations. As a result, this nomination is no longer an isolated debate that can begin without context.”

Despite their differences, Hatch and Wyden agreed to introduce bipartisan legislation Thursday aimed at reforming some of the IRS’s administrative practices, echoing legislation that already passed the House in April.

The Taxpayer First Act is also based on two 114th Congress bills (S. 3156 and S. 3157) that passed the Finance Committee unanimously in 2016. It aims to increase taxpayer protections and electronic filing; enhance whistleblower protections; reform policies concerning IRS employees; increase scrutiny of IRS audit criteria; and support prevention of identity theft and tax refund fraud.

“Ensuring the IRS has greater flexibility and bringing it into the 21st century continues to be a top priority – especially with the largest rewrite of the tax code in more than three decades on the books,” Hatch said in a statement. “We’ve been working hand in glove with the administration to ensure a proper and seamless implementation of new policies and are confident this bill will streamline the agency in a way that protects taxpayers from fraud and abuse, increases electronic filing and supports IRS employees.”

“With every passing day there’s a new headline about hackers and crooks stealing taxpayer dollars and personal data,” Wyden stated. “Congress must do more to protect American taxpayers from fraud and financial abuse. This bipartisan legislation will make common-sense changes to help taxpayers and streamline administrative rules at the IRS, which will allow tax officials and agents to better safeguard the American people against financial predators.”

The text of the bill, S. 3246, can be found here.

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