Now, GOP leaders have taken up the cube yet again as they try to solve the fiendishly difficult legislative puzzle of tax reform.
The party's politicians, experts, and activists have long been more animated by the tax issue than by health care, so it would seem simple to unite them around one bill.
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But even before a bill has been drafted, challenge after challenge has come up, endangering the entire endeavor. And without a specific bill to defend, "Right now, they're fighting both real and imaginary enemies," says Douglas Holtz-Eakin of the American Action Forum, a nonprofit promoting the GOP effort.
Republicans have two main goals when it comes to taxes. They want to make major, permanent changes to the corporate tax code, overhauling how it's structured in what they hope is a pro-growth way. And they also want to cut taxes — for corporations generally, for individual taxpayers, and for wealthy estate owners.
The dream formula for getting this done has always been to pair general tax rate cuts with the elimination of deductions, loopholes, and other benefits (which is often referred to as "broadening the base"). That helps politically by creating many "winners" from the legislation. It cushions the impact on the deficit somewhat by at least somewhat making up for lost revenue with all that loophole-closing.
The trouble is, well ... they have to get rid of all those deductions, loopholes, and benefits, in the face of inevitable furious lobbying from the people and businesses that currently benefit from them.
"It's the usual tax reform war," says Holtz-Eakin. "Which is, 'We like this good news, the lower rates, but we really don't like this bad news — the broader base.'"
If more deductions are kept intact and the tax base isn't broadened, the GOP bill will have a tougher time satisfying deficit hawks and abiding by Senate rules. And politically, Republican politicians have so uniformly campaigned against any and all tax increases for so long that any bill that raises taxes on anyone — even if it's just by ending deductions — will be tough for many of them to support.
So in recent weeks, problem after problem on these fronts have emerged. The GOP framework's attempt to raise revenue by ending the state and local tax deduction has come under fire from many in the party. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) flagged estimates that Republican leaders' plan will raise taxes on many in the middle class. Retiring Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) is threatening to vote against any plan that raises the deficit by even a penny, and Senate rules constrain what any bill that doesn't raise significant revenue in the long run can do.
It's at least theoretically possible that all these problems will be solved, or at least fudged sufficiently to get a bill passed. But uniting 218 House members and 50 senators around any one proposal will be a challenging task indeed.