CA Dem Who Owes $145,000 in Back Taxes Blocks Tax Lien Disclosure Bill

Dems block law that would garnish wages of congressional tax cheats

Rep. T.J. Cox (D., Calif.) / Getty Images
March 11, 2020

A California Democrat who owes nearly $145,000 in unpaid federal income taxes voted on Wednesday to block a bill requiring members of Congress to disclose tax liens.

The IRS filed a tax lien against Rep. T.J. Cox (D., Calif.) in January, listing nearly $87,000 and $57,000 in unpaid federal income taxes from 2016 and 2017, respectively. The congressman on Wednesday voted to block legislation that would force politicians to reveal such liens in congressional financial disclosures. The bill would also garnish federal wages from elected officials until the debt is resolved.

The vote comes as Cox faces a tough reelection fight in 2020 against former California Republican representative David Valadao, who Cox defeated by less than 1 point in the closest congressional race of 2018. While election observers, including the Cook Political Report, rate the 21st Congressional District as "lean Democratic," Republicans have seen positive signs that they will be able to flip the district following the March primary. California has open primaries in which the two candidates with the most votes, regardless of party, face off in the general election. Valadao received 53 percent of the primary vote, compared with Cox's 36 percent.

The Valadao campaign rebuked Cox for his vote in a comment to the Washington Free Beacon, accusing the Democrat of prioritizing his bank account over his official duties.

"T.J. Cox owes the IRS over $140,000 in taxes and now is using his vote in Congress to protect himself," said campaign manager Andrew Renteria. "T.J. has proven time and again that voters can't trust him because he's willing to put his own personal financial interests ahead of voters in the Central Valley."

Cox's January tax lien is hardly his first financial misstep with the IRS. In 2017, the California Democrat paid out $48,000 in unpaid income taxes dating back to 2015. He blamed the lien on "bureaucratic incompetence," arguing that his "check was stuck on the back of somebody else's payment." Cox has also faced multiple liens against his businesses and was sued in December for alleged fraud and failure to pay back $150,000 in loans.

Cox did not respond to a request for comment.

Cox voted to block the Members of Congress Tax Liability and Garnishment Accountability Act of 2020, which was introduced by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) in March. The bill requires members of Congress to report unpaid back taxes in their financial disclosures, garnishes their federal wages to resolve the debt, and holds their pay in escrow until the liens are fulfilled.

Rep. Rodney Davis (R., Ill.) argued in favor of the bill on the House floor Wednesday, calling it "responsible governing."

"We expect every American to file their taxes. Those same hardworking Americans deserve to know if their representatives are doing the same," Davis said. "If it's the position of the [Democratic] Party to force Americans to support politicians with their tax dollars and raise the taxes of hardworking families, we should at least let those same Americans know which of us in this body are even paying our own taxes."

The legislation was rejected in a 226-186 party-line vote on Wednesday.