Despite the IRS operating on a skeleton staff and being subject to the partial government shutdown, and contrary to longtime shutdown policy, the White House said Monday that tax refunds will be paid this year even if the shutdown extends for several more weeks.
“Tax refunds will go out,” Russell Vought, the acting director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, told reporters at a briefing Monday, according to several outlets. He added, per The Hill: “We have been trying to make this as painless as possible consistent with the law.”
Tax filing season is expected to start in late January or early February, and delayed refunds would’ve provided substantial political pressure to end the shutdown President Donald Trump initiated over his insistence that Congress provide $5 billion for a border wall.
But it’s unclear what legal authority the administration is asserting.
The Wall Street Journal reported that in past, administrations have said refunds can’t be paid while the government is shut down: “The administration’s legal argument wasn’t clear on Monday,” the paper said.
And The New York Times reported that lawyers for the Democratic majority on the House Ways and Means Committee thought the move would be illegal.
“We keep trying to call people at IRS and Treasury, and there’s no one there,” a committee spokesperson told the paper.