Despite finally having a Republican president to sign their bills into law, Republican lawmakers efforts to pass legislation have languished. They failed to repeal Obamacare, and although there is talk of a final desperate effort to do so, the GOP conference seems to have lost the will to make an all-out effort in other areas, too. They need urgently to snap out of their torpor, for the alternative is to confirm their critics' charge that they are incapable of governing.
The biggest concern is a lack of progress or any apparent sense of urgency on tax reform. With what seems like widespread agreement, at least on major principles, it's ridiculous that a bill hasn't even been introduced yet, and won't be by the end of the month.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan announced last week that an "outline" will be released on September 25, but we already know what the outline will look like. Tax rates will be cut for individuals and businesses. All but the most important deductions and credits will be eliminated. The Death Tax will die. In short, taxes will be lower, and filing will be simpler.
That's great, but Republican politicians and their conservative base have long agreed on all of this. And we've already seen tax reform outlines from the White House and House Republicans. So what's the holdup?
Agreement on these principles should be enough for House Ways & Means Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, to introduce a bill on which the legislative process could build a serious structure of reform.
As with healthcare, Republicans have been talking about tax reform for years. Think tanks, former presidential candidates, and even congressional GOP plans released in the recent past should have been good starting points so that tax reform could hit the ground running.
But here we are, eight months into Trump's presidency, and congressional leaders appear only now to be waking up and starting from scratch.
It is to be hoped that GOP leaders have learned from their mistakes in the Obamacare repeal debacle and are plotting a different legislative approach for tax reform. Their repeal and replace bills were largely negotiated in secret and sent directly to the chamber floors rather than deliberated in committee. That lack of transparency was, justifiably, a major factor in the public's distaste for the bills. You can't win over public opinion if you don't go out and sell the details. Sell them?! Goodness, the GOP hardly even allowed them to be visible.
It's concerning that a "big six" group of negotiators from Congress and the administration have done most of the work so far on tax reform. There is the apparent confusion even within that group about how much detail will be released in the "outline" on Sept. 25. Congress and the administration should discuss these things, but the fruit of their discussions should be only the start of a transparent process open to input from the whole GOP conference.
The time is now for tax reform. Successfully getting tax reform passed is crucial for the long-term political future of the Republican Party and the economy. As the Obamacare debacle showed, legislating is harder than it looks. That's especially true if you don't learn anything from your own failures.
There is an urgency to succeed, but no need for cutting corners. Try to legislate in haste, and you are likely to regret it at your leisure — and in opposition.