The Trump administration entered office with two major legislative priorities: Obamacare repeal and tax reform.
The White House decided to delegate health care to Congress. The president would provide promotional tweets, sabotage the existing health-care system, lobby ambivalent lawmakers, and, periodically, undermine the entire effort by calling it “mean” and/or publicly contradicting the GOP leadership. But the actual bill-writing was left up to Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. That way, the administration could put all its policy-making muscles into tax reform.
Two months into its tenure, after consultations with CEOs and conservative tax experts — and long, ardurous deliberations between Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin and National Economic Council director Gary Cohn — the administration was finally ready to unveil its vision for making the tax code great again.
“This is something, because we are designing it from scratch and running through a lot of scenarios we’ve needed the last two months to work on,” Mnuchin explained in late March. “We would not have been ready to go a month ago on tax reform, and now we are.”
Still, the White House apparently decided that it would take one more month to ensure that its vision was as clear and comprehensive as possible. So, it wasn’t until late April that Cohn and Mnuchin went before the cameras and proudly presented the fruits of their labors: a bullet-point list of radically regressive tax cuts that would be paid for by closing unspecified “special interest” loopholes.
Which is to say: After three months of concerted effort, the White House released a less-detailed version of the tax plan that Trump had campaigned on.
This seems like the sort of the thing that would be a scandalous embarrassment in an administration that wasn’t led by an ostentatiously corrupt conspiracy theorist who tweets about cable news like it’s his job.
But, perhaps, we should cut the “adults” in the White House some slack. Tax reform is hard. Trump was pressing them to release something before they were ready, so they were forced to publicize a placeholder.
After a solid half-year in office, however, they really do have their ducks in a row. Or so Axios reports:
The White House actually seems to have its act together on tax reform. Activists and business leaders who’ve been meeting with Gary Cohn, Steven Mnuchin, Marc Short & Paul Teller from legislative affairs, and Sean Spicer (who’s leading the comms strategy), all tell us the same thing: They’re surprised about how much planning and organizing the White House has already done, given its ham-handed approach to the health care rollout …President Trump wants to pitch tax reform aggressively. Our sources expect him to make the case for the plan by barnstorming the Midwest states he won in November
… The White House is engaging CEOs across the country, looking for them to hold town halls, do media appearances, and write letters to their employees explaining the benefits of tax reform … They’re talking to local mayors and county commissioners, too. And they’re pressing outside groups to spend big on advertising support.
Sounds like they’ve really done their homework. If they’re this deep into the marketing phase of their effort, then the actual tax-reform bill must be in great shape. Let’s see what progress they’ve made on the policy front:
We expect the White House to float a few tax policy trial balloons in August …. [One] major unsolved problem is how (or if) to pay for all these tax cuts. Some in the White House would happily just blow out the deficit, but Leadership suspects most Republicans wouldn’t be on board with that.
Ah. So activists and business leaders are pleasantly surprised by how well prepared the White House is to pass tax reform. Also, it will be one more month before the administration begins floating “tax policy trial balloons,” and, for the moment, the top economic minds in the Executive branch have no idea how to defray the cost of their desired tax cuts — which a recent analysis put at around $7.8 trillion over ten years — beyond “blow out the deficit.”
We’re now grading the White House policy proposals by the same exacting standards that a Montessori preschool teacher deploys when offering feedback on finger paintings.