In the wake of failure, Republicans eager to push tax cuts

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The Republican effort to tackle health care reform was one of the more dramatic legislative fiascoes in recent memory, but GOP officials apparently don't intend to spend much too time licking their wounds. On the contrary, Republicans want to quickly make the transition to tax reform.

Politico had an interesting piece over the weekend, which quoted House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) on his party's plans.

Positing that health care was about to die, I asked Brady if re-writing the tax code would be any easier. "Tax reform is the hardest lift in a generation," he told me, shaking his head. "So that would be a big challenge."

"If you couldn't get health care done," I ask him, "how can you get tax reform done?"

Brady thought for a moment. "Every Republican is all-in on tax reform. We still have a lot of work. But it's just a natural issue for us in a very positive way."

And while on the surface that may sound compelling -- GOP lawmakers intend to move from one effort that cut taxes for the wealthy (health care reform) to a different effort to cut taxes for the wealthy (tax reform) -- Republicans also seemed united in their opposition to the Affordable Care Act. As recent developments made clear, like-minded ambitions do not a legislative victory make.

So why would tax reform be "the hardest lift in a generation"? In part because of the scope and scale of the task: Republicans aren't just talking about tax cuts; they want to pass tax reform -- the first time since 1986 that federal policymakers have effectively tried to re-write the nation's tax code.

To be sure, the U.S. health care system, which affects one-fifth of the American economy, is incredibly difficult to overhaul. But the U.S. tax code affects nearly all of the economy, making it that much more challenging.

As budget expert Stan Collender explained over the weekend in a Forbes piece, "This will be critically important to the outcome of the debate. Repealing and replacing the existing system rather than starting from scratch where there wasn't one before means that, just like with Obamacare, tax reform will create losers as well as winners. It's virtually guaranteed that the companies who will pay more because of the proposed changes will fight at least as hard as those that will pay less. That will make the tax reform debate longer, tougher and much nastier than anyone is currently assuming."

Politico added the other day that there's already "deep disagreement among Republicans on the Hill, and between the Hill and the administration" on what tax reform should look like, "and the lobbyists have hardly started pounding the pavement."

The intra-party divisions on health care were serious -- enough to derail the entire initiative -- but Republican squabbling over tax reform has quietly been nearly as ferocious. Though it didn't generate much chatter at the time, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) addressed Senate Republicans in a private luncheon in mid-February, trying to make the case for a border adjustment tax, which would presumably help pay for the broader GOP goal of lower rates.

A day later, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) spoke on the Senate floor and said "some ideas are so stupid only an intellectual could believe them." Around the same time, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) added, "The House is talking about a tax plan that won't get 10 votes in the Senate."

What could possibly go wrong?

Postscript: The GOP's first endeavor is directly relevant to its second: health care was supposed to create some savings, which Republicans intended to apply to tax cuts. That, obviously, is no longer an option.