Sunday, October 22, 2006

Tax Reform Act of 1986

Today is the 20th anniversary of the enactment of the Tax Reform Act of 1986. At the time, I had a seat near the action as a Legislation Attorney at the Joint Committee on Taxation. It was easy to be cynical about the political process that led to its enactment, and I was, but compared to today the word Pollyanaish seems fairly apt. Notwithstanding the sleazy "rifleshot" transition rules, exempting particular companies from adverse changes, that we put in, presumably, to buy individual votes. And notwithstanding the core reason for its enactment, which was the "dead cat" problem - few politicians actually wanted it, and they all came to understand fairly early on that the voters didn't really want it, but whoever let it die (Rostenkowski, Packwood, the White House) would have a "dead cat" rotting on his doorstep.

Still, at the time there was an actual policy process, with staffs that had ideals and institutional memories getting to play a role, and there actually were some powerful people who cared at least a bit about good policy (e.g., Don Regan and Dan Rostenkowski), and there was bipartisan cooperation, along with a notion that the voters would reward actual achievement (or at least punish its absence), and there was a sense of fiscal responsibility. It wasn't actually Pollyanna. But it was a functioning political system, sleazy and ignorant to be sure if one should be too high-minded about it, but far as yet from being utterly debased and dysfunctional.

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