There’s little mystery why it’s been 30 years since the last comprehensive tax-reform law: Tax reform is a nightmare.
It takes extraordinary political focus, the capacity to withstand months of bureaucratic infighting, the fortitude to ignore relentless lobbying from organizations losing their favorite tax benefits, and devoted White House stewards who are prepared to guide the bill through this maelstrom for months, or even years. Trump and Republicans in Congress gave up on health-care reform after 17 days. The White House has already blamed the bill’s failure on the same representatives it will need to pass tax reform. According to Goldman Sachs research, stock prices for high-tax corporations have already given up their gains since Trump’s victory, suggesting a growing pessimism that the administration will succeed in revamping corporate or individual taxes.
The Reagan White House saved tax reform for his second term, when the president would never again face reelection. Trump’s position couldn’t be more opposite: He is both historically unpopular for a president this early in his term and generally desperate for popular approval. He has demonstrated an allergy to policy details, an aversion to political negotiation, and a general dislike of schleps. Tax reform is nothing but details. It is the canonical definition of a political schlep.