History mandates presidential candidates release tax returns, but not how many

Republicans scramble to pass ‘the postcard test’


It’s easy to forget, but when Republicans first turned their attention to tax policy last year, they said they had some specific goals. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) argued, among other things, that GOP policymakers would make the tax system “so simple and fair” that Americans will be able to do their taxes “on a form the size of a postcard.”

Ryan’s vow was foolish for a variety of reasons, but as a simple practical matter, it also looked like a failure. The New York Times  reported in December that the Republican plan “does not pass the postcard test,” adding, “[N]o taxpayer will ever see the postcard-size tax return that President Trump laid a kiss on in November as Republican leaders launched their tax overhaul effort.”

But what if that was wrong? The New York Times obtained a draft copy of the new version of the standard 1040 income tax form, which actually shrinks the document to something resembling a postcard. So Republicans delivered on their promise? Not exactly.

Smaller is not necessarily simpler. The new form omits a variety of popular deductions, including those for student loan interest and teaching supplies, forcing taxpayers to search for them – and tally them up – on one of six accompanying worksheets.

It does the same for business income, capital gains and several other forms of income. It includes a dedicated line for the expanded child tax credit, but not one for child care expenses.

As a practical matter, Republicans took the old forms, took out a bunch of fields, moved them to a series of “worksheets,” and now plan to present the result as proof that they passed “the postcard test.”

And that will be true if one looks at this in the most dumbed-down way possible.

The whole point of “the postcard test” was simplification. Republicans set out to make the tax system easier and more straightforward, but they failed spectacularly, effectively giving up on that goal before the plan passed.

The result is new paperwork that may actually be more complicated, both for taxpayers and the Internal Revenue Service.

The Timesreport added, “President Trump is a huge fan of the postcard idea, which he praised throughout the tax debate last fall and into tax season this spring.” And that’s why officials had to follow through on this charade, like a high-school student who plays with font sizes and margins to meet a minimum-page requirement, but in reverse.

I have no doubt that Donald Trump will soon be pointing to his new “postcard” as an accomplishment, which will only make sense to those who overlook every relevant detail.