The Politics of Tax Reform
IN PRIVATE, political leaders of both parties agree on many ways to make the tax system fairer, simpler, and more efficient. In public, however, few will acknowledge any sympathy for these same changes. Vigorous, intelligent, and well-paid lobbyists beset members of Congress with arguments that one particular tax provision or another is vital to the nation and that the campaign contributions over which the lobbyist has influence are vital to that member's reelection. The analytical issues about how best to reform the tax system are difficult, as preceding chapters illustrate, but the primary obstacle to making the tax system better is not a lack of agreement on things to do but of political will to do them. Only the president can successfully assert the broad public interest and create a shield behind which individual members of Congress can be protected from assaults of particular interests.
This chapter will explore the political roots of complexity, inefficiency, and favoritism in the tax system. The same political forces now arrayed against reform would try in the future to reinstate favoritism in a reformed tax code. In light of these forces, the chapter will describe the prerequisites for successful tax reform.
According to the Joint Committee on Taxation of the U.S. Congress, the tax code contains more than 100 special deductions, credits, exclusions, amortization rules, and exemptions.1. All were designed to achieve some worthy social or economic objective without adding to direct federal outlays. For example, when Congress wanted to help families____________________