When Will People Realize That Tax Reform is Dead?

I’ve written in depth about the Republicans’ plan for enacting tax reform a few times in the recent past. Maybe I am a masochist, because I can’t think of too many subjects less likely to stir the hearts of my progressive readership, and yet I keep coming back to this topic.

I have a couple of reasons for this. For one, it gives me an excellent opportunity to talk about congressional procedure in a way that is relevant and timely. For another, the desire for a tax reform bill is a huge factor in understanding the behavior of Republicans who aren’t fans or true allies of the president. The prospect of a big corporate and/or personal income tax cut is an adhesive that has been keeping the GOP from retreating from the president’s lines and risking a full-on rout. Were the prospects of tax reform to die completely, it’s likely Trump’s isolation would become fatal. Therefore, it’s in my interests as a patriotic and self-respecting American to speed that understanding along. Because the Republicans aren’t going to succeed in getting a tax reform bill passed.

I’ve been careful to note that there are potential fallback positions available, at least in theory. It’s still possible that Trump could give up on a total rewrite of the tax code and settle for a less ambitious tax cut that would be acceptable to at least eight Democratic senators. Of course, it would have to be a truly bipartisan bill with buy-in from some of the more powerful and important Democrats on the tax-writing committees. That would require such a thorough rethink of strategy by the White House and by the congressional Republican leadership that it’s hard to imagine at the moment. But it could happen eventually, after all other avenues for getting a “win” are demonstrated to be dead ends. It wouldn’t be a very plausible “win,” but I guess it would be better than total failure.

Trump’s top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, just moved the goalposts on tax reform by announcing that the White House doesn’t expect tax reform to be completed until the end of 2017. If you were paying attention, though, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that same thing in July after having earlier promised a signed bill before the August recess. The difference there is that Mnuchin also said in July that the White House would release a plan in early September. That has now changed.

The White House does not plan to release its own version of a tax reform plan and will instead leave that to the congressional leadership and the major tax-writing committees, a senior administration official said Thursday. The decision to hand off the specifics of tax reform comes after the administration promised earlier this summer to release a full tax plan when Congress returned from its August recess.

If you’ve been reading my pieces on this subject, you can’t be surprised about the delay. As I’ve said, a prerequisite for starting work on tax reform is passing a new budget with special reconciliation directives. There aren’t enough legislative days available in September for the Republicans to be diverted to a subject as time-consuming as tax reform. But it’s definitely news that the White House has given up on providing a framework bill for Congress to work with as a template.

My more conspiratorial mind suggests to me that this is a gambit by the White House to push off an admission of failure. By keeping the issue alive at least until the end of the year and giving Congress full ownership, they can prevent the adhesive from losing its stick.

But tax reform really is dead, and if we can somehow make this more broadly understood, it will hasten the point when Congress and many powerful Republican players lose their incentive for putting up with Trump’s antics and the peril he presents for our security.

As for Cohn, he’s basically asking to be fired and relieved of his duty by making it known that duty is the only reason he hasn’t resigned in the face of the president’s pro-Nazi position.

“I have come under enormous pressure both to resign and to remain in my current position. … As a patriotic American, I am reluctant to leave my post … because I feel a duty to fulfill my commitment to work on behalf of the American people. But I also feel compelled to voice my distress over the events of the last two weeks.”

“As a Jewish American, I will not allow neo-Nazis ranting ‘Jews will not replace us’ to cause this Jew to leave his job,” he says. “I feel deep empathy for all who have been targeted by these hate groups. We must all unite together against them.”

But Cohn wasn’t really talking about neo-Nazis tempting him to quit; he was talking about the president doing that. And his comments amount to a pretty stunning rebuke of his boss.

We’ll see what his boss does about it, because we’re in pretty uncharted territory here. Does Trump tolerate his own aides publicly chastising him in this manner? It’s almost as if Cohn is daring Trump to fire him — and relieve him of his own conflicted feelings about serving this president.

If Cohn were to quit, he thinks he’d be giving the Nazis a win, and it certainly would be considered a win by Steve Bannon. But he’s set things up so that Trump has to either tolerate being called a Nazi appeaser by his chief economic adviser or prove Cohn’s point by doing the Nazis’ bidding and getting rid of him.

I have no idea how that will shake out, but it’s one more reason why you can rest assured that a comprehensive tax reform isn’t going anywhere.

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