Economy & Budget

Trump’s tax reform plan: Baby steps to success or strike three?

Donald Trump is 0-for-2 right now on his big policy pushes since he entered the White House. The Trump administration unveiled a push for comprehensive tax reform that has received mixed reviews from center-right policy experts, and if the White House proves feeble on this, it’ll be three strikes on their big policy pushes.

Trump’s rollout of his immigration order was greeted by fierce airport protests from the left and more opposition in his own party than should have been expected. The first iteration of the order was haphazard, poorly-written and subject to court challenges, which is why the White House struggled to get cover from its own party. GOP senators demanded “immediate” revisions and said the order “goes too far.”

{mosads}In the wake of the initial rollout, the Trump administration moderated and revised the immigration order to something more palatable and enforceable. They declared it a win. But it was an early sign of how further policy pushes might go for the White House. Many conservatives who support stricter scrutiny of incoming immigrants could not support the immigration order due to the chaos and confusion it stoked. Donald Trump’s seeming insistence on going it alone without input from other conservative policymakers was a disaster.


The debacle that was the American Health Care Act (AHCA), the long-awaited GOP ObamaCare repeal bill. While some portrayed it as the White House keeping its hands off and letting GOP leadership in Congress steward the bill, the Trump administration did indeed throw its support behind the plan. It was a disaster. Announcement of the AHCA was greeted with universal opposition from conservatives. Policy experts from conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute opposed it, as did a large group of conservative congressmen in the Freedom Caucus — not to mention the near-impossibility of anything with its structure passing through the Senate.

The American Health Care Act did not garner enough support to even be put up for a vote in the House.

Tax reform has long been a priority for Republicans, and perhaps reflecting that, the Trump tax reform proposal has been better received, even if it’s far from perfect. Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute called the outline “a good direction,” and the Heritage Foundation said it was a “solid start.” Speaker Paul Ryan said that Republicans in Congress are “getting on the same page,” and the momentum sure does seem a lot more positive than the two previous big-ticket items from the Trump administration.

There are two possibilities here. One, the Trump administration is learning. Their immigration rollout was a debacle, and ObamaCare repeal was a disaster. Even having most of their ducks in a row for this push on tax reform represents a small step forward. At least this time, there isn’t a massive contingent of Republicans lining up against what the White House is pushing.

On the other hand, tax reform is something that is central to the Republican Party as anything. Health care and immigration are messier and cleave across many different ideological lines, and after eight years of maligning executive orders it may have been overly optimistic to expect a Republican president to get the hang of them immediately. And ObamaCare repeal through reconciliation is a thread-the-needle exercise that will likely never satisfy anyone.

Tax reform is easier. It’s simpler. The sharpest conservative policy minds have been hard at work on ideal ways to reform the tax code for decades. Perhaps, as Jim Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute wrote, we should be very, very worried that the President doesn’t actually have a fully fleshed-out plan before unveiling it to the public.

When Donald Trump scored his stunning upset in November and secured Republican control of the House, Senate, and Presidency, there were high hopes on the Right. But right now, Republicans are staring down the barrel of going 0-for-3 on the Trump White House’s first big policy fights.

Trump may not be rendered completely ineffective by another loss, but it’s difficult to fathom losing on the first three big fights when the Republican Party controls both the White House and Congress.

Kevin Glass is a policy writer in Washington, D.C. who has been published by The Atlantic, U.S. News & World Report, National Review and others. He is a contributor to The Washington Examiner. Follow him on Twitter @KevinWGlass.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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