WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 28: U.S. President Donald Trump addresses a joint session of the U.S. Congress as Vice President Mike Pence (L) and House Speaker...
Chip Somodevilla

Another key item on Trump's wish list drifts further away

As Donald Trump's 100-day benchmark quickly approaches, it's hard not to notice the Republican president's to-do list is lacking check marks. Trump's Muslim ban has faltered in the courts; his health care legislation can't overcome opposition from within his own party; his infrastructure plan doesn't exist; and his dream of a border wall is little more than a mirage.

What about tax reform, ostensibly at the top of Trump's list of priorities? It's drifting further away.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the Trump administration's timetable for tax reform is set to falter following setbacks in negotiations with Congress over healthcare, the Financial Times reported on Monday.

Mnuchin told the Financial Times in an interview that the target to get tax reforms through Congress and on President Donald Trump's desk before August was "highly aggressive to not realistic at this point."

Note, it was Mnuchin who floated August as a deadline for tax reform in the first place.

This comes just a week after the Associated Press reported that Trump has "scrapped the tax plan he campaigned on and is going back to the drawing board in a search for Republican consensus behind legislation to overhaul the U.S. tax system."

Wait, it gets worse. Congressional Democrats have said they won't consider any reform legislation unless they know how it would affect Trump's finances, which means the president would have to release his tax returns in order to get Democratic buy-in on any proposal. Trump, however, remains committed to keeping the materials secret for reasons he hasn't explained.

At the Treasury Department, meanwhile, so many key offices are empty -- Trump simply hasn't nominated anyone for a variety of important posts -- that the White House "does not appear to have the personnel in place to get an overhaul of the tax code out of the station."

The New York Times report added that during the last major tax-reform initiative, Reagan's Treasury Department relied on "an army of economists and accounting experts," who took 10 months to craft a plan. Even if he had a credible approach that could garner political support, Trump simply doesn't have the personnel in place to crunch the numbers.

All of which brings us to two big questions. The first is, will Trump ever have a major legislative achievement? It's obviously still quite early in his presidency, but the Republican's prospects appear bleak, at least for now.

The second is, what will GOP officials do if tax reform fails to come together? Axios reported yesterday, "As full-blown tax reform looks more and more like an unreachable stretch, there's increasing conversation on the Hill about what's being called a 'candy option' -- all the goodies, with none of the pain."

In other words, instead of reforming the tax code and overhauling the system -- what Trump promised and set out to do -- Republicans would simply ignore the campaign vows, cut taxes for the wealthy, increase the deficit, and call it a day.

That'd probably suit the president just fine: last week, he started using "tax cuts" and "tax reform" interchangeably, as if they were the same thing.