The late columnist Robert Novak had a favorite saying about the GOP: “The only reason God created Republicans was to cut taxes. And the 1980s were a perfect world for doing so.
President Reagan’s across-the-board cuts on individual income tax rates in 1981 were followed by sweeping tax reform in 1986 that reduced the top rate to 28 percent while wiping out special tax breaks and broadening the tax base. The top rate had been 70 percent when Reagan was first elected.
Republicans had fulfilled their destiny, but they didn’t do it on their own. Two Democrats, Senator Bill Bradley and Rep. Dick Gephardt, were first out of the gate with a plan for tax reform. Reagan’s reaction was to order up a reform scheme that left special interests out in the cold. A compromise was thrashed out. The House passed tax reform 292-136, the Senate 74-23. It was bipartisan nirvana.
Today, bipartisanship is a fleeting memory. Enacting tax reform in 2017 will be difficult and politically painful, if not impossible. Even if all goes well for President Trump and Republicans, it won’t pass until August at the earliest. That’s too long to wait. The animal spirits unleashed by Trump’s election can’t sustain strong economic growth forever.