Tuesday, August 14, 2018
Opinion

Column: Why are Republicans making tax reform so hard?

In the aftermath of the health care blowup, President Donald Trump and the Republicans need a legislative victory. Tax reform probably should have gone first, but now is the time to move it forward with urgency.

Unfortunately, the White House seems all over the map on the subject. One day there is a trial balloon for a value-added tax. The next, the idea of a carbon tax or a reciprocal tax.

One sure lesson from the health care setback is the old admonition "Keep it simple, stupid." The Republicans tried to fix the trillion-dollar health insurance market instead of keeping the focus on repealing Obamacare.

They have a chance to make amends with a new tax bill and still hit the August deadline. We advised Trump during his election campaign and we believe the Republican Party's lesson for tax reform is this: Don't try to rewrite the entire tax code in one bill.

Instead, the primary goal of Trump's first tax bill should be to fix the federal corporate and small-business tax system, which has made America increasingly uncompetitive in global markets and has reduced jobs and wages here at home. The White House and the Treasury already have a tax plan that we were involved with last year. The three most important planks of that plan are:

First, cut the federal corporate and small-business highest tax rate to 15 percent from 35 percent, which is now one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world.

Second, allow businesses to immediately deduct the full cost of their capital purchases. Full expensing of new factories, equipment and machinery will jump-start business investment, which since 2000 has grown at only one-third the rate recorded from 1950 to 2000.

Third, impose a low tax on the repatriation of foreign profits brought back to the United States. This could attract more than $2 trillion to these shores, raising billions for the Treasury while creating new jobs and adding to the United States' gross domestic product.

To help win over Democratic votes in the House and Senate, we would also suggest another component: What many workers across the country want most from Trump is infrastructure funding. As part of this bill, we should create a fund dedicated to rebuilding America's roads, highways, airports and pipelines, and modernizing the electric grid and broadband access — financed through the tax money raised from repatriation of foreign profits.

As much as possible, this bill should include private financing for projects like toll roads and energy drilling. We also favor "user pays" financing, such as toll roads, and we would oppose any Fannie Mae-type financing structure for projects that would put taxpayers on the hook for hundreds of billions in potential losses.

For this strategy to work, Republicans need to take several steps. First, Trump and Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, should stop insisting on "revenue neutrality." In the short term, the bill will add to the deficit. But Trump's tax bill, like those of Presidents Ronald Reagan and John Kennedy, should be a tax cut, and it should be sold to the American people as such.

We should emphasize that business tax relief is not a sellout to corporations but a boon for middle-class workers. A study by the Tax Foundation and Kevin A. Hassett, then at the American Enterprise Institute and now the chairman of Trump's Council of Economic Advisers, found that middle-class wages rise when business taxes fall.

Next, Republicans should abandon the so-called border-adjustable tax. A border tax is a poison pill for the tax plan: It divides the very business groups that the party needs to rally behind tax reform. Retailers like Wal-Mart will never go along. A carbon tax would be even worse. The best way to bring jobs back to America is to simply lower tax rates now while rolling back anti-jobs regulations, such as rules that inhibit American energy production.

As for fixing the maddeningly complex individual income tax system — lowering tax rates and ending needless deductions — we are all for it, but that should wait until 2018. Jobs and the economy are the top priority to voters.

Trump should demand that Congress send him a jobs bill this summer that he can sign into law on Aug. 13, 2017. That is the day Reagan signed his historic tax cut in 1981 at his beloved Ranch del Cielo in Santa Barbara, Calif.

That tax cut and Kennedy's before it unleashed two of the longest periods of prosperity in American history, and that is a result Trump should want to replicate.

Steve Forbes, Larry Kudlow, Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore, co-founders of the Committee to Unleash Prosperity, advised the Trump presidential campaign on economic policy.

© 2017 New York Times

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