Foreword: The Past, Present, and Future of the Federal Tax Legislative Process
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 20171 is—for better or worse—the most significant piece of federal tax legislation since the Tax Reform Act of 1986. Despite the comparable significance of the two tax acts, they could scarcely have been more different in terms of the legislative processes that produced them. The 1986 Act grew out of not one, but two, lengthy Executive Branch tax reform studies—the multi-volume “Treasury I” of November 1984, and President Reagan’s nearly 500-page proposal of May 1985 (often referred to as “Treasury II”). In response to the proposals from the Treasury and the White House, the congressional tax writing committees each convened over forty days of hearings and conducted markups lasting seventeen and twenty-six days. Following the release of Treasury II, more than sixteen months passed between the first hearings of the House Ways and Means Committee in June 1985 and President Reagan’s signing of the bill in October 1986,5 and almost two years separated the release of Treasury I from the presidential signing.
In 2017, the role of the multi-volume Treasury I was played by a one-page collection of bullet points released by the White House in late April. In place of the hundreds of pages of Treasury II, in late September the Trump White House offered a nine-page (counting the title page and some pages featuring mostly white space) Unified Framework for Fixing Our Broken Tax Code. Following the introduction of the House bill reflecting the Administration’s tax reform proposal, neither tax committee held a single hearing and each conducted a largely pro-forma markup of only four days. The entire legislative process—from the House bill’s introduction on November 2 to the presidential signing on December 22—took barely seven weeks.