The smart money is betting that tax reform won't happen this year, or anytime soon. Not with an election just 10 months away, and an even bigger one following close on its heels.
That's too bad, because tax reform is one of the few issues where you could actually imagine a really interesting and useful bipartisan debate. What's more, there would be plenty of upsides to such a debate for progressives.
On the bipartisan potential: Both progressives and conservatives hate many features of the tax code, for their own reasons. Progressives dislike how the biggest individual tax breaks -- for housing, healthcare, and pensions -- heavily favor the affluent, and how the corporate tax code is littered with giveaways to already profitable industries, like Big Oil. A growing number of progressives also dislike how we tax good activities like work and wealth creation, when we could be taxing bad activities like pollution, financial speculation, and overconsumption. Meanwhile, libertarian conservatives hate how the tax code puts government in charge of "picking winners and losers," as well as "social engineering," and dislike the overall complexity of the system. Some on the right also think we should shift what we tax, away from work and wealth.
These areas of common interest are what could make a tax reform debate both interesting and productive. Unlike the usual political fights in Washington, this one wouldn't automatically pit left and right against each other; it would pit special interests against reformers of a variety of stripes.
Of course, proposals for revenue positive tax reform -- or revenue negative -- would instantly dash any left-right convergence, but otherwise we could see a lot of good developments, even if reform didn't ultimately pass. Here are a few strong ideas that could gain traction:
Beyond all this, a big tax reform bite would be useful for other reasons, like reminding Americans of the need to limit the influence of lobbyists and special interest groups -- influence which would be dramatically showcased as one proposal after the other faced a blowtorch of focused resistance.
Come on, Washington, get this fight going.