Upcoming Corrections May be More than Technical

Victor Thuronyi

In 1981, Congress passed a tax cut which, among other things, greatly accelerated deductions for investment in equipment. It soon became apparent that the 1981 Act was going to lose too much revenue.  Republicans were in charge of the Senate and the White House.  At that time, Republicans were by and large responsible, reasonable legislators.  Bob Dole was chair of the Senate Finance Committee.  The Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 (TEFRA) was enacted, undoing many of the provisions of the 1981 legislation.

While it would be unrealistic to expect Republicans today to propose something similar to TEFRA, there is no reason Democrats should not do so. Democrats might start as soon as the tax bill passes (if it does) putting together legislation to repeal many of its problematic provisions, and perhaps include other reform measures that would raise revenue and improve the equity of the tax system.  Such a piece of legislation should also include technical corrections to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). 

The haste with which the TCJA has been written guarantees that technical corrections will be needed soon, and that the scope of technical corrections needed will likely exceed what is usual for other major tax bills. If hearings had been held, many of the technical and policy problems with the TCJA could have been identified earlier and fixed.  As it is, there will be a period of probably several weeks during which any number of people concerned with the tax law will be uncovering various anomalies.  These should be gathered by the tax-writing committees, and Democrats should take the lead in getting the process started if Republicans are not eager to do so.

A technical corrections bill does not normally make major policy changes to the law it is seeking to correct, but this time may be different.   The bill will not be subject to reconciliation protections, as the TCJA was, so 60-vote support will be needed in the Senate. Democrats will have leverage, and they could insist on policy changes.  They will not be able to get all the changes they want, but they should insist on at least a partial reversal of some of the more egregious give-aways to the wealthy and corporations included in the TCJA.

A bipartisan TEFRA 2018 could be an example of compromise legislation in which neither side gets everything they want, but on balance the national interest is served. Unlike the Republican approach to the Affordable Care Act, Democrats should not insist on “repeal and replace” (which would mean that nothing would get done by way of technical corrections) but be satisfied as long as some of the TCJA is reversed in TEFRA 2018.  Democrats can follow up by seeking further rollbacks of the provisions of the TCJA in 2019 or later, particular if Democrats are successful in taking control of the House or Senate in the 2018 elections.

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