A few weeks ago, Donald Trump boasted with great pride, "Our tax bill is moving along in Congress, and I believe it's doing very well." The comment drew some blank stares for a simple reason: there is no tax bill.
Either the president was lying about an imaginary proposal "moving along in Congress," or he's so detached from the events going on around him that he actually believes his bogus claims. (The White House hopes to unveil a proper tax plan in September, following up on the one-page wish list Trump released a couple of months ago.)
As for the underlying policy goal of overhauling the tax code, the Wall Street Journal recently reported that the debate, even among Republicans, is stuck, and many of the GOP's goals "are either dead or on political life support." Many stakeholders have all but given up on the idea that changes to the tax code will be approved this year.
It's against this backdrop that some key Republican leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), turned their attention to the issue yesterday. The Washington Post reported:
Vice President Pence and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan aimed to project a united front on tax reform at a joint appearance Tuesday, and in a sense, they did.
"The Internal Revenue Code is twice as long as the Bible, with none of the good news," Pence told a Washington conference of manufacturing magnates. An hour later, Ryan (R-Wis.) repeated the line nearly verbatim.
Indeed, the pair found plenty of common ground as they discussed GOP plans for changing the U.S. tax code -- a Republican priority for more than a decade and a top item on President Trump's agenda. But despite sharing broad principles and a punch line, the party leaders give little indication they'd resolved the internal Republican divisions that have plagued the reform effort from its inception.
Bloomberg Politics described Ryan's speech as little more than a "pep talk" for his allies, reminding them that tax reform is a worthwhile endeavor.
That's fine, as far as it goes, but policymakers don't need a morale boost; they need a plan. Ryan's pitch amounted to little more than a wouldn't-it-be-nice appeal.
Indeed, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) chided Ryan yesterday, saying she applauds the current House Speaker "on his ability to give so many speeches on tax reform without ever sharing details of an actual plan."
A proposal may, however, come together eventually. The Associated Press reported yesterday that Gary Cohn, Donald Trump's top economic aide, plans to "privately negotiate a massive overhaul of the tax system with Republican leaders in Congress, possibly giving rank-and-file members little if any say over the finished product."
Oh. So there will be a secret bill, crafted behind closed doors, negotiated without bipartisan discussions. Why does that sound familiar?
Of course, one of the key differences between a health care overhaul and a tax policy overhaul is the process: the latter could (and would) face a Democratic filibuster.