White House claims IRS will issue tax refunds despite shutdown

The Internal Revenue Service will make tax refunds even if the government remains shut down when they are set to be issued, the Trump administration said on Monday.

“Tax refunds will go out,” Russell Vought, the acting director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, told reporters during a briefing.

Vought said the move was a change from past shutdowns and that the appropriate agencies would issue further guidance.

House Democrats are planning to pass legislation this week to fund the Treasury Department and IRS, as part of their effort to push Republicans to end the shutdown. But the measure is not expected to become law.

Issuing the tax refunds might lower pressure on Trump and his GOP allies in Congress to abandon their demand for $5.7 billion in border wall funding and reopen the government. Refunds have been frozen or delayed during past government shutdowns.

“We have been trying to make this as painless as possible consistent with the law,” said Vought.

But it remains unclear whether the administration has the legal authority to hand out refunds during the partial shutdown, which is now in its third week.

The Treasury Department, which oversees the IRS, is one of the agencies that had its funding lapse and processing refunds could require furloughed employees to be put back to work.

The tax-filing season typically begins in late January, but the IRS has yet to announce the start date for this year's filing season.

The IRS has been working under a non-filing season shutdown contingency plan since the funding lapse started in late December. A Treasury spokesperson said Monday that “the IRS will finalize and release its filing season lapse plan in the coming days.”

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) said in a statement that he spoke on the phone with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig on Monday and looks forward "to seeing a more detailed description of how the agency will carry out these operations, particularly what will be expected of Treasury and IRS personnel."

Neal also said that he hopes the Senate will act on the bill that the House is expected to pass this week to fund the IRS.

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