Editorials

On Trump’s taxes, it’s the Democrats’ turn for a political stunt

Sen. Charles Schumer in a recent Senate floor speech.
Sen. Charles Schumer in a recent Senate floor speech. AP

Tax Day came and went last week without Donald Trump acknowledging that Americans should get to see their president’s tax returns. An overwhelming majority of citizens – including both Democrats and Republicans – think Trump should release those returns. So do we.

But how far should Democrats go to persuade the president?

A group of lawmakers have pledged this month not to pursue tax reform – which Trump badly wants to address – until they have a better idea how such reform would benefit the president and his family. The best way to learn that, of course, is through Trump’s tax returns.

“If he doesn’t release his tax returns, it is going to make it much more difficult to get tax reform done,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader.

Schumer and others see the pledge as both leverage against Trump and a way to protect Americans from a president who wants to profit off his office. To that end, Democratic lawmakers are employing procedural maneuvers in an attempt not only to nudge Trump, but to get Republican lawmakers to join the arm-twisting, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

As far as political stunts go, it’s not a bad one. Democrats already have most Americans on their side regarding Trump’s tax returns, and tying those returns to tax reform seems logical. After all, no one wants their elected officials to pass legislation with their own bottom line in mind.

There’s also a case to be made for Democrats putting their foot down about the president’s larger lack of transparency.

From the tax returns to a not-so-blind trust that allows Trump undisclosed business profits to last week’s news that the White House will no longer release visitors’ logs, Trump has been alarmingly secretive. Lawmakers, and Americans, should demand better.

Still, we’re not big fans of political stunts, and we’re especially wary of political hostage taking. We didn’t approve of it when Republicans shut down the government in 2013 because they wanted Obamacare gone. We don’t think Democrats should block significant policy discussion over something that’s just tangentially connected.

Yes, Trump could be the beneficiary of tax reform that includes, say, a repeal of the estate tax. But policy shouldn’t be crafted or scuttled based on how it affects any one person, even if that person is the president.

Plus, it won’t work. Democrats know that the last thing Trump will do is bow to this shake-down. The no-returns, no-reform pledge isn’t so much about changing the president’s mind as it is about rallying the base. It’s a tactic Republicans know well; they were quite successful these past eight years using obstructionism as a political tool.

Call us old-fashioned, but our elected officials should judge tax reform – or any policy – on its merits. We sent them to Washington to work on critical issues, not their re-election.

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