Donald Trump and his White House team have spent the last several days telling congressional Republicans to focus solely on repealing the Affordable Care Act, despite the GOP's recent failures on health care. It's against this backdrop that Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) was on the chamber floor this morning, previewing "the fight for historic tax reform in the coming months."
It would appear Congress has begun its pivot to the next issue on its to-do list.
In fact, those involved in the process are apparently feeling quite ambitious about what's possible. White House Legislative Director Marc Short spoke to some political groups backed by the Koch brothers yesterday and said he expects tax reform to start moving in Congress in September, passing the House in October, and clearing the Senate in November.
The last time policymakers overhauled the federal tax code, it took two years. Contemporary Republicans expect to wrap things up in a few months.
That may not be entirely possible. In April, Trump released a one-page summary of his expectations for tax reform -- it was effectively a table of contents without any real content -- which was little more than a joke. The "plan," such as it was, made clear the president expects others involved in the process to do the heavy lifting.
And that's not happening. Politico reported late last week:
The White House, the Treasury Department and congressional leaders issued a six-paragraph statement Thursday that tried to show off their commitment to pursuing tax reform without delving into any policy specifics.
The only problem? Tax overhauls live and die on details -- and their absence, after months of weekly meetings aimed at achieving consensus, showed that the GOP's dream of achieving tax reform may be years from completion.
Missing from the "Big Six" leaders' statement were details such as what rates Republicans think major corporations, the wealthiest individuals and the middle class should pay. Also unresolved were the status of the estate tax and the fate of prized tax breaks, such as the ability to deduct business interest and state and local taxes.
Republicans basically have a plan to eventually come up with a plan. In fact, they're regressing: last week's summary was even shorter than the one-page document the White House released in April.
The entire document was 594 words. To put that in perspective, the blog post you're reading right now is 565 words.
The only substantively significant development last week was the demise of the border-adjustment tax, which some GOP leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), intended to use to increase revenue and apply the savings to lower rates. With that idea now dead, it's not at all clear what Republicans even expect to accomplish with the endeavor.
Making matters just a little worse, the "Big Six" responsible for writing the reform plan are all Republicans -- two from the House, two from the Senate, two from the Trump administration -- which may sound predictable, except for the fact that Congress plans to pursue tax reform through regular order. That means, of course, that the plan will need Democratic support to clear the Senate -- which may be tricky given the fact that Dems have been kept out of the process entirely.
I have a hunch "the fight for historic tax reform" is going to be more difficult than Republicans realize.