Politics & Policy

On Taxes, Another Fiasco in the Works

President Trump with House Speaker Paul Ryan at the White House, November 2, 2017. (Reuters photo: Carlos Barria)
Trump’s version of leadership isn’t helping the GOP make policy.

Rhetorically, President Trump is all bang — and in reality, he’s all whimper.

“I alone can fix it,” he insisted. Fix what? Everything!

How’s that working out for you, Republicans?

A big, beautiful wall paid for by the rascally Mexicans? No — though Trump might oversee the renovation of some existing fencing and let your grandkids pay for it. Whoopin’ on the Chi-Coms with currency-manipulator sanctions and punitive tariffs? Trump went to Beijing and kissed more a** than the extended Kardashian family has sat on. Repealing and replacing Obamacare? Nope and noper. Showing Republicans how to win? Ask Ed Gillespie, Luther Strange, Rick Baker, Maine, Georgia, New Jersey . . . We’ve got panicky Republicans pointing to Mary and Joseph to argue that maybe it’s not so bad for a grown man to be hooking up with a 14-year-old girl.

But there’s one thing you can count on: Given a Republican president, a Republican House, and a Republican Senate, you can be sure that there will be some big, irresponsible, deficit-increasing tax cuts on the way. That’s what Republicans do.

Oops.

When it comes to big, complex policy questions, President Trump’s style of leadership is not entirely effective. He doesn’t know what he wants, but he knows what he’s afraid of: media criticism. So when Republicans came up with a health-care bill, Trump denounced it as “mean.” What did Trump want in a health-care bill? He said he wanted it to be “generous, kind, with heart.” What might that mean in terms of actual legislation? Nobody knew. Nobody knows. Nobody ever will know.

House Republicans have drawn up a tax-cut bill. Democrats — this will shock you — don’t much like it. So Trump reassured the Democrats that they will like the Senate bill better. So much for the House bill. The problem is, the Senate bill delivers something close to the opposite of what Trump himself has said he wants. Trump wants corporate tax cuts now, as a stimulus measure, but the Senate bill would put those off until 2019, according to the Washington Post. Why prefer the Senate bill?

Because Chuck Schumer does.

But at least Republicans have the good sense to send a Goldman Sachs veteran, Gary Cohn, out to explain to Middle America that the estate tax — which doesn’t kick in until after $11 million for the estate of a married couple — isn’t something that is mainly of concern to the very rich. Think of all those struggling, salt-of-the-earth farmers and small businessmen with $11 million estates, Cohn says.

It sounds better when Cohn says it. Really.

Here’s the problem, in short: There are two legislative chambers — the House and the Senate. Republicans control both, but in the Senate there are two significant Republican factions that do not agree with each other about tax reform, and in the House there are four or five factions with significantly different ideas about fiscal policy. Neither Senate leader Mitch McConnell nor Speaker of the House Paul Ryan can count on the president for political leadership in the matter of herding those cats, mainly because the president has no idea what he actually wants a tax package to contain. Trump doesn’t do policy — he does adjectives: “kind,” “generous,” “terrific,” “great,” “best.” Absent intelligent and committed presidential leadership, it is difficult to get anything complicated or difficult done. Maybe Paul Ryan should pass a bill replacing the current revenue system with one based on “pure awesomeness” and leave it to the IRS, the Supreme Court, and Judge Judy to sort out what that means.

Trump could deputize the Treasury secretary to take the lead on this, if Steven Mnuchin could take time out from Wonder Woman (he was the executive producer of the film) and explaining away his C-list-actress wife’s embarrassing Marie Antoinette antics long enough to pick up the phone, and maybe even walk on over to the Capitol and let congressional Republicans know what it is the president is thinking, if anything. Assuming he knows, which he probably doesn’t.

Pity the House Republicans. (A little; these guys all asked for their jobs.) They’d originally put forward a fiscal plan that would have included a substantial reduction in so-called mandatory spending while making room for modest tax reform. The Senate balked at the spending cuts, and the House surrendered so quickly they were practically speaking French. (Pisser dans un violon, it was.) The House went back to work out some complicated compromises on various deductions and whatnot, and the president dropped a deuce on their work before they were even finished.

Meanwhile, the Trumpkins are trying to figure out how to be mad about the Senate bill, which the president apparently prefers, without being mad at the president. That makes for interesting radio.

Pity the House Republicans. (A little.)

Imagine three sad-faced clowns sitting backward on a drunken mule and trying to march it sideways through a coin-operated carwash without any money and you’ll have a pretty good idea where the Republican tax-cut plan is right now.

I can’t wait until they take up North Korea.

READ MORE:

NR Editorial: The GOP’s Tax Plan Is a Decent Start

My Meeting with Mnuchin and Ivanka Tells Me Tax Reform Is in Trouble

The Perlious Path to Tax Reform

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