Donald Trump is set to steamroll Paul Ryan on tax reform, the issue the speaker has devoted his political career to achieving.
But don’t expect Ryan to relinquish his pet cause easily.
The White House on Wednesday will drop the outlines of a tax plan that insiders expect will contradict the blueprint Ryan has been working on for more than a year. It won’t include the House speaker’s controversial new tax on imports, which was expected to bring in $1 trillion to finance lower tax rates. And top Trump officials are insisting their tax plan need not be paid for, rejecting Ryan’s stance that any package should not add to the deficit.
The administration’s sudden change of course came as a surprise to the speaker’s office, which didn’t get a heads-up before Trump announced on the fly last week that he would drop a tax plan Wednesday. Ryan had been working with the administration on a tax proposal “hand in glove,” as he put it, and the administration seemed content to let him take the lead.
This alleged conflict between Trump’s “tax cuts” and Ryan’s “tax reform” is completely illusory. Ryan’s objective is to pass the biggest tax cut for rich people that he can. The “tax reform” angle is useful for Ryan in the abstract because “yoooge tax cuts for the rich” aren’t politically popular, and because revenue-neutral tax reform could be “permanent” rather than having to sunset in ten years. But Ryan’s plan, which also required ACA repeal, was actually rather dumb politics because doing “tax reform” means unpopular tax increases and spending cuts as well as upper-class tax cuts, and had little chance of passing anyway.
The inevitable end game, therefore, was exactly what Trump is proposing: another Bushesque round of debt-financed upper-class tax cuts. It will probably pass in some form, although I doubt the elimination of most deductions will fly, and this will suit Ryan just fine.