Tax reform is going to be really, really hard

The fight to repeal Obamacare is over — for now — and Republicans have pivoted to the fight ahead on their tax proposal. But writing the legislation won’t be their only challenge: lawmakers will face several big hurdles before they can produce a final bill.

Congressional Republicans have made clear that they want to rely on an approach which requires the fewest votes possible for passage in the Senate. So they’ll again try to use the budget reconciliation process, which allows certain legislation to pass with 51 votes rather than the usual 60-vote threshold. The GOP used it to try to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but failed to attract enough votes, though they tried several times this year.

Getting tax reform done may be just as tough. As Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, aptly put it Wednesday, the battle over an overhaul of the nation’s tax code will make the debate over health care look like “a piece of cake.” He added, “If we do it the right way, it hasn’t been done in 31 years,” referring to the last time the tax code was rewritten — under President Ronald Reagan, in 1986.

President Trump rolled out the details of his tax plan in Indiana Wednesday, and GOP leaders talked up the proposal at a joint press conference at the Capitol. The goal is to narrow the number of individual tax rates and tax deductions and to lower corporate taxes. The White House says it will be revenue-neutral — that is, the plan will neither increase nor decrease revenues — but only when economic growth is taken into account.

While the conservative Freedom Caucus — which doesn’t always endorse leadership’s plans — endorsed the tax framework, internal party divisions over the substance will almost certainly remain an issue. Corker, for example, said he doubts any legislation that adds to the deficit will pass, and he would oppose such a bill. Many prior reconciliation bills signed into law have reduced the federal deficit, but some, like the tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush in 2001 and 2003, increased it.

Adding to possible rifts within the GOP over the policy itself, the legislative steps needed to get a tax reform bill to Mr. Trump’s desk will make it an even heavier lift.

Reconciliation is a confusing, complicated, multi-step process that ultimately allows for fast-track consideration of changes to mandatory programs or federal revenue. First, at the committee level, both the House and Senate Budget Committees must each pass a budget resolution with…

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