Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin doesn’t want to talk to Congress about the ongoing government shutdown, which has now entered its second month.
On Wednesday, Mnuchin declined to appear at a Thursday morning hearing hosted by the House Ways and Means Committee on the shutdown’s economic impact. More than 70,000 employees of Mnuchin’s agency, which includes the Internal Revenue Service, are impacted by the shutdown. Some 45,000 agency employees are reporting to their offices without pay.
Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) sent Mnuchin a letter on January 16 inviting him to the hearing. Treasury responded by saying it would instead send other Treasury and IRS officials with more knowledge about the agency’s shutdown plans.
“The Department has acted in good faith to meet the Committee’s legitimate need for information concerning the impact of the current shutdown,” Treasury officials noted in their response to the committee. “If the purpose of the upcoming hearing is to inform Congress and the public, we are confident that goal will be best served by testimony from the senior Department officials with the deepest and broadest expertise on the subject of the hearing.”
The administration has sought to lessen the political blowback from the shutdown by ensuring that the IRS sends tax refunds at the end of January as originally scheduled. With White House encouragement, the IRS has reversed standing policies preventing issuing refunds during government shutdowns, and last week recalled 36,000 furloughed employees without pay to help process the payments.
On Wednesday, Neal and Mnuchin spoke by phone, according to CNN. During the call, Mnuchin reportedly told the congressman that he would be willing to testify soon. The Treasury Department did not immediately respond to a Mother Jones request for further information on when such testimony might happen.
The partial government shutdown, now the longest in American history, has caused more than 800,000 federal workers to go weeks without pay, putting many in precarious financial situations. President Donald Trump has refused to consider a budget unless it contains billions for border wall funding—a proposal that Democrats oppose and that polling shows is unpopular among Americans.