As Republicans rally behind a big push for tax cuts, expect to hear one idea over and over: that a major goal of reform is to make the tax code so simple you could file your taxes on a postcard.
Paul Ryan floated this notion — complete with a postcard mock-up — in his 2016 campaign policy document "A Better Way." And according to Majority Whip Steve Scalise, as quoted by Jeremy Beaman in the Washington Examiner, this is an idea that "gets people excited" about tax reform. That's a key messaging goal for Republicans because the actual underlying policy objective — reducing the tax rate paid by very rich people and large corporations — isn't popular, so you need to yoke it to something that is popular, like filing your taxes on a postcard.
As Ryan said in an August 8 speech on taxes to business leaders, "We will consolidate the existing seven brackets into three, double the standard deduction, and simplify things to the point that you can do your taxes on a form the size of a postcard. This, instead of the 1040 form. Wouldn't that be nice?"
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It would be pretty nice. That said, the ideas Ryan is proposing are neither necessary nor sufficient to achieve that goal. Republican tax plans feature large, costly changes that have nothing to do with simplifying the process of filling out tax forms. And they also retain features of the existing tax code that require some people to engage in fairly laborious paperwork in order to do their taxes properly — solving the problem by filling their model postcard with hand waving and asterisks.
Fundamentally, greatly simplifying tax compliance for a majority of Americans doesn't require changing the tax code at all — it simply requires challenging the entrenched lobbying power of the accounting industry and tax prep software vendors.