Editorials

Trump and Congress should slow down and do tax reform right

Reforming the massive tax code is not something that can be done in a rush. Unless, of course, President Donald Trump’s objective isn’t to overhaul the tax code, only to cut taxes.
Reforming the massive tax code is not something that can be done in a rush. Unless, of course, President Donald Trump’s objective isn’t to overhaul the tax code, only to cut taxes. AP

Donald Trump is in a hurry. Again.

Over the weekend, the president urged Congress to pick up the pace in overhauling the tax code. The reason for the rush? Hurricane Irma.

“I think now with what’s happened with the hurricane, I’m going to ask for a speedup,” the president said at Camp David. “I wanted a speedup anyway, but now we need it even more so.”

Rush, rush, rush. Isn’t he always in too big a hurry?

That’s a problem. If Trump truly wants “phenomenal” and “historic” tax reform, he’s got to do just the opposite. He’ll have to dial it back and channel Simon & Garfunkel. “Slow down, you move too fast...”

Maybe he also should read a little history. The truly historic Tax Reform Act of 1986 was both bipartisan and a seemingly never-ending journey that ate up a full two years of Congress’ time.

“All of us here today know what a herculean effort it took to get this landmark bill to my desk,” President Ronald Reagan said in signing it.

The new law did lots of important things, such as shifting a significant part of the tax burden from individuals to corporations. It also exempted millions of low-income households from federal income taxes. It was, Reagan said, “a sweeping victory for fairness.”

If Trump truly wants to make history with his reform push, he’ll have to accept the reality that dealing with the more than 2,600-page tax code will take time. It’s tough stuff, especially because, as the president said last month in Springfield, “Most of it is not understandable.”

How do you define “child” for tax purposes? Should companies be taxed on their worldwide income — or just the money they make in the U.S.? What should the corporate tax rate be?

Or maybe what the GOP is really looking for is nothing more than tax cuts to give the party a major victory in a year devoid of them. That’s an entirely different proposition, and it means no dice when it comes to curtailing loopholes and inequities and a sweeping simplification that might one day enable taxpayers to complete their taxes on a mere postcard.

If he was serious about reform, Trump wouldn’t have attacked Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, a moderate Democrat, last month in Springfield. If she doesn’t support his push for tax cuts, “you have to vote her out of office,” Trump said.

The president, though, might need her vote if the going gets tough.

The tax journey has been choppy. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin proclaimed in February that the administration wanted to overhaul the tax code by August. Then in April, he acknowledged that meeting the August deadline was unlikely, given the health care fight.

Also in April, the administration released a one-page outline of its tax policy goals that left many wanting more details. Finally, last week, House Speaker Paul Ryan put the kibosh on one of the president’s most consistent promises: slashing corporate taxes to 15 percent. Ryan said Republicans are now aiming at a rate in the mid- to low-20s.

Nearly nine months into the Trump administration, the road ahead on taxes looks bumpy. A big push on tax reform is about to begin. The GOP has a prime opportunity to achieve a significant goal — if Trump gives it time.

One thing to keep in mind: Manage your expectations.

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