The Tax Council Policy Institute’s 2017 symposium was aptly titled “Tax Policy in Transition: Diverging Views in a Converging World.” The organizers presented a star-studded cast of tax policy experts from business, government, and policy think tanks. Panelists with deep expertise shared valuable insights as they discussed the merits of various approaches to business taxation, paying particular attention to the “Better Way” House GOP blueprint for tax reform released last summer.
The symposium approached business taxation from nearly every angle. Panels discussed the merits of various approaches to reform. They talked about the tradeoffs that would be required to achieve lower rates. They discussed dynamic scoring, and how any plan’s impact on economic growth might affect how the plan is scored by the Joint Committee on Taxation. They discussed different approaches to business taxation – from the destination-based cash flow tax touted by Ways and Means Chair Kevin Brady, R-Tex., to a corporate integration regime supported by Senate Finance Chair Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
Panelists did not just discuss the details, advantages, and disadvantages of each approach under consideration. They also talked about the process of tax reform, including how Congress might enact reform, when it might happen, and even whether it could happen in Washington’s current toxic environment. They talked about how a new system might be phased in to limit shock to the current system. One thing was clear after Brady’s keynote speech opening the symposium: no legislation has been drafted, and none is expected until this summer at the earliest.
It is fair to say that TCPI managed to assemble a collection of experts’ experts who touched on every substantive and procedural policy issue that must be considered before Congress finishes any work on its thrice-in-a-century effort of overhauling the U.S. tax code. However the entire effort could be doomed in the current “anti-elite” climate.
Everyone at the symposium who addressed the politics of tax reform emphasized that White House support is critical to the success of any reform effort. And yet during the entire two days of the conference, not a single speaker talked about any of the plans in terms of whether it is “good,” “tremendous,” “a total disaster,” or “fake." Thus far, the White House has not committed to support or oppose any particular plan. The most specific comment the president has made on the subject was that the plan in the House blueprint is “too complicated.” So does this comment indicate that a man who was once famously photographed standing next to a 4-foot-high stack of his – still undisclosed – tax returns is oblivious to the fact that taxes are complicated? We need the nation’s chief executive to think about, and accept the notion of “policy” – and take advice and counsel from experts who know more than he does. Otherwise all the policy conferences in the world will not help us achieve tax reform.