There's a reason tax reform is so rare

**Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.**

On the roster: There’s a reason tax reform is so rare - As Congress returns, Harvey funding looms - Mattis says transgender troops can continue to serve - Pelosi the first top Dem to denounce Antifa violence - You never know where you’ll meet a friend

Everyone in Washington knows that there hasn’t been a major reform of the tax code since 1986. It’s a fashionable fact often repeated these days by the pundit class. 

The message is that tax reform is not likely to happen before Congress hits its budget deadline 31 days from now. And they are right in the sense of a massive overhaul, like the kind engineered by then-President Ronald Reagan with the help of Democrats Richard Gephardt and Bill Bradley.

What people talk about less is why it has been so long. It’s not just that it’s complicated… 

The one-term presidency of George H.W. Bush is attributable to many things, but none moreso than his broken pledge: “Read my lips: No new taxes.” When Bush, as vice president, accepted his party’s nomination in 1988 he made the bold pledge to quiet conservative critics. He would break his promise two years later.

It is actually Bush’s situation that may be more instructive here than Reagan’s. 

In Missouri today, President Trump is rolling out his tax plan. He isn’t talking about a big, permanent, bipartisan plan like Reagan’s. He’s talking about using the budget reconciliation process to do something less ambitious, but still pretty audacious. 

And that is exactly where Bush found himself in the fall of 1990. Looking for a big win on domestic policy, he cut a deal with Democrats that included tax rates going up in exchange for controls on spending and other concessions. 

Trump’s situation is different in that he is blessed with a Republican-controlled Congress. But he is doubly cursed because he is already an unpopular incumbent at odds with his own party and is working under an almost-impossibly tight timeframe. 

Senate rules allow, as everyone now knows, fiscal provisions attached to the budget to pass the Senate with 51 votes. While it should be easy to get Republican consensus around cutting taxes, what won’t be easy is the concept of eliminating certain deductions and other big changes to the way people and corporations pay Uncle Sam

As the clock ticks down and restive Republicans face votes to end popular deductions or cuts that will swell the deficit in the short term, this will get dicey, for sure. 

Twenty-seven years ago, Bush knew he would take a political hit for cutting the deal, but figured it was the responsible thing to do with the end of the Cold War finally in sight. He never really liked Reagan’s supply-side “voodoo economics” anyway.

It may be hard for readers younger than 30 to remember, but American politicians used to worry about deficit spending. Crazy, right? 

Remember also that Trump’s decisions will come against the backdrop of a potential government shutdown. You can’t pass the party-line tax vote without the budget, but if you don’t pass the budget by the end of next month the government shuts down. It’s a $4 trillion game of pickle. 

Skeptical conservatives never forgave Bush for the betrayal and helped deliver his general-election defeat in 1992. The winner of that election, Bill Clinton, would find out just a year later in the summer of 1993 when his own budget blew up. Tax increases in the Clinton plan help doom the Democratic House majority for the next 12 years. 

Clinton’s successors, Republican and Democrat, were careful about tax increases and budgets in general for those very reasons.

Bush’s son didn’t just cut taxes, he saw to it that people got rebate checks in the mail as a stimulus. Barack Obama did raise taxes, but was careful to focus on soaking the rich or specific industries, and tried to pair those moves with tax cuts for the middle class. 

So it’s true that tax reform is hard, which is why it’s been 31 years since it has happened. But that doesn’t mean that what’s happened in the meantime has been easy. 

NYT: “President Trump on Wednesday pitched a sweeping tax overhaul that he said would unleash the American economy and growth to help ordinary people, promising that a vague recipe of large corporate tax cuts and individual tax reductions would boost the middle class. Wrapping his message in the populist rhetoric that powered his presidential campaign, Mr. Trump called for quick action from Congress on the ambitious tax plan he has promised for months, but he offered few specifics beyond a goal of a 15 percent corporate tax rate, down from 35 percent. The politically difficult legislation has yet to be drafted despite months of private negotiations between members of his administration and Republicans on Capitol Hill. … It will be up to lawmakers in Congress to hash out the particulars of a complex and risky tax bill, administration officials say.”

“But a minute detail of particular rights is certainly far less applicable to a Constitution like that under consideration, which is merely intended to regulate the general political interests of the nation, than to a constitution which has the regulation of every species of personal and private concerns.” – Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 84 

It took Roger Federer five grueling sets to beat a little-known American, 19-year-old Frances Tiafoe. Three years ago, the now-defunct sports magazine Grantland profiled Tiafoe – who got the chance to train at the prestigious Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Maryland only because his father cleaned up the joint. It’s worth a look back. Grantland: “He was only 1 when his father, Constant, an immigrant from Sierra Leone, began working as a day laborer on a construction crew that built the facility in 1999. When the new club was complete, Constant was hired as the custodian. Tiafoe began playing at about 4, his natural feel for the sport honed in part by making good use of early, unlimited access to the court. … On many nights, [he] and his twin brother, Franklin, slept in an extra storage room at JTCC with their father, whose job it was to open and close the tennis center’s doors.”

Flag on the play? - Email us at
your tips, comments or questions.

Trump net job-approval rating: -18.4 points
Change from one week ago: down 1 point

[President Trump’s score is determined by subtracting his average job disapproval rating in the five most recent, methodologically sound public polls from his average approval rating, calculated in the same fashion.]

US News: “Initial estimates suggest damage from Hurricane Harvey could rise to $30 billion, yet the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief fund had just $3.8 billion as of July 31. Coming up with relief money is set to be a challenge… And while the total cost won't become known for days or weeks, lawmakers in Washington have already begun to snipe over federal relief efforts. Some members from northeastern states revealed their lingering raw feelings over a vote in 2012, when a majority of Republicans – including some 20 congressmen from Texas and both the state's senators – voted against sending aid to New York and New Jersey after they were hit by Superstorm Sandy. At the time, GOP lawmakers including Sen. John Cornyn and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, as well as future House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, blamed spending items unrelated to recovery efforts for their votes against the $50.4 billion package that ultimately passed Congress.”

Flood insurance is on deck, too
 - Reuters: “Congress will soon be asked to renew the government-run National Flood Insurance Program that expires at the end of September. While a simple extension of the current program has wide bipartisan support, some lawmakers are calling for broad reform. Republican proponents of reform want private companies to write policies. … Additionally, they want the U.S. government to stop charging the program interest and the savings to be used for flood mitigation.  That could set up a difficult battle. Conservatives have voiced concerns that the insurance program has about $25 billion of debt, while Democrats say the Republicans’ plan to allow private-market plans would be more expensive for homeowners.”

Trump to meet with “Big Four” of Congress - Fox Business: “ House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), affectionately known as the ‘Big Four’, are scheduled to meet with President Donald Trump next Wednesday. On the agenda will be a host of must-pass items for the month of September, including raising the United States’ borrowing authority – or debt ceiling – by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s mandated deadline of Sept. 29 and passing a spending bill before the onset of the new fiscal year in October.”

Trump will visit Texas for a second time - The Hill: “‘The number one thing after talking to him just a little bit ago that he wanted to reinforce from today was that this is all about people, making sure that we are taking care of the people of Texas, that is his number one priority,’ White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, per pool report.” 

Axios: “Defense Secretary [James Mattis] announced Tuesday that transgender people currently serving in the military will be allowed to continue to serve while a study on the issue is conducted. From his statement: ‘Once the panel reports its recommendations and following my consultation with the secretary of Homeland Security, I will provide my advice to the president concerning implementation of his policy direction. In the interim, current policy with respect to currently serving members will remain in place.’ Trump gave Mattis a great deal of discretion in how to implement the ban, and until February to determine ‘how to address’ currently serving troops. The policy of not allowing transgender recruits will stand.”

James Kirchick: ‘When Transgender Trumps Treachery’ - NYT: “The fashion world has a new darling. … She also happens to have perpetrated one of the greatest leaks of classified government material in American history. But that’s not the primary concern of the breathless media coverage afforded Chelsea Manning, born Bradley. … Celebrating Chelsea Manning just a few years after gay and transgender people were permitted to serve openly in the military discredits the L.G.B.T. cause. … It would be hard to find a less convincing advocate for transgender military service than someone convicted of violating the Espionage Act. The cognitive dissonance required of L.G.B.T. activists in celebrating Ms. Manning while denouncing Donald Trump’s transgender military ban is considerable…”

Pentagon begins drafting Trump’s Afghan plan - WashTimes: “A week after President Trump outlined his new plan for the war in Afghan, the Defense Department has begun drafting the battle plan to make his vision a reality in the troubled 16-year-old war. But the early drafts, being overseen by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, appear at odds with actions already undertaken by U.S. wartime commanders. Gen. Dunford and Defense Secretary James Mattis are still in the early stages of implementing the White House’s new strategy. Mr. Trump’s plan, unveiled in a prime time address earlier this month, was heavy on rhetoric but light on critical details — including how many more U.S. troops would be heading to Afghanistan to battle the Taliban and a growing Islamic State presence. Mr. Trump insisted the U.S. will be abandoning the timeline-based approach to the Afghanistan mission in favor of a ‘conditions-based’ strategy.”

Fox News: “House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., condemned attacks by members of Antifa against conservative demonstrators over the weekend in Berkeley, Calif., calling the violence a ‘sad event.’ ‘Our democracy has no room for inciting violence or endangering the public, no matter the ideology of those who commit such acts,’ Pelosi said in a statement Tuesday evening. ‘The violent actions of people calling themselves antifa [sic] in Berkeley this weekend deserve unequivocal condemnation, and the perpetrators should be arrested and prosecuted.’ … ‘In California, as across all of our great nation, we have deep reverence for the Constitutional right to peaceful dissent and free speech,’ Pelosi's statement continued. … Pelosi, who represents a district in neighboring San Francisco, had been criticized for not condemning the Antifa violence as forcefully as she had warned about the potential for unrest at a Patriot Prayer rally that had been planned for Saturday.

Rich Lowry: ‘Stop Making Excuses for Antifa Thuggery’ - National Review: “So-called anti-fascist, or antifa, activists bearing shields emblazoned with those words assaulted any of the handful of beleaguered Trump supporters they could get their hands on at a small political rally over the weekend. All in the cause, mind you, of demonstrating their supposed opposition to hatefulness. Too many people were willing to perfume antifa in the wake of Charlottesville, where it clashed with Nazi thugs who caused, and deserved, a wave of national revulsion. But Berkeley demonstrates once again the true nature of this left-wing movement, which is thuggish in its tactics and totalitarian in its sensibility. Anyone who at this point makes excuses for antifa — or worse, justifies it — is participating in its moral rot.”

Axios: “Donald Trump Jr. will meet with the Senate Judiciary Committee in a closed session about his meeting with a Russian government lawyer during his father's campaign for the presidency last year, CNN reports. A committee spokesman wouldn't say when it will happen, but Senators Chuck Grassley and Dianne Feinstein have both previously said they expect Trump Jr. to appear as soon as September. The discussion between Trump Jr. and the Senate panel will be transcribed. Why it matters: Before the meeting, Trump Jr. was promised damaging information about Trump's opponent, Hillary Clinton. Special Counsel Bob Mueller is reportedly looking into whether the president tried to cover up the purpose of the meeting. … Mueller has issued subpoenas for the former attorney and current spokesman for former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, per CNN.”

Trump blocks Obama rule on collecting info on pay by race, gender - The Hill

No fire or fury, but muted Trump response to NoKo missile - AP

Tillerson moves to close State cyber office - The Hill

States take lead in defunding Planned Parenthood without Congress - WashTimes

“I really do believe that some of us are built for executive positions and some of us are built for legislative positions. I think I’m much more of an executive branch kind of guy.” – New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie telling Fox News colleague Neil Cavuto that he would not appoint himself to serve out the remainder of Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez’s term if Menendez is convicted in his ongoing corruption trial. 

“Just got through watching [Secretary of State Rex Tillerson] on Fox, and what he has done, combining agencies, and eliminating jobs.  My guess is - he just could be waiting to see ‘how things go,’ while gaining more experience - and then, again, combining agencies.  A lot of your loyal readers would most likely agree that this is the kind of person we desperately need more of in DC.  … So, what I’m getting around to saying is ‘WE NEED TERM LIMITS!’ Get the best and the brightest - get rid of the outlandish ‘bennies’ Congress has enjoyed.  A successful exec who would devote part of his life to this commitment wouldn’t do it because of money!  (Maybe also bring one back to the real world?)  Why, oh why, can’t we get a national movement to accomplish term limits?” – Ernie Weaver, North Port, Fla.

[Ed. note: The once-robust term limits movement is but a shadow of its former self. And it’s no mystery why: The very individuals that such a constitutional amendment would target also constitute the first step in getting such an amendment passed. One answer is to apply the rule on a state-by-state basis, but courts have been pretty consistent in saying that states don’t have the power to determine who’s seated in Congress. These are federal rules. The answer is probably for one very rich person or a number of them to band together to push the issue onto unwilling politicians. Groups have had success with litmus tests on other issues like tax increases, abortions and guns. It would seem easier to do in the case of a movement that already has considerable popular support.

“What on earth was the point of that excerpt from The New Yorker in your 8/29 column?  It took up space and took time to read.  I’m enlightened to learn that they’ve covered television from the days of Howdy Doody.  But personally, I don’t need your piece to amplify the fact that The New Yorker has been around a long, long time. Tom Wolfe did a marvelous dissection of The New Yorker staff and shtik (everyone tries to sound like E B White and look like James Thurber) in a weekend supplement in the old Herald Tribune. Wolfe noted, with his customary modesty, that the parody was so effective the paper received a phone call from Lyndon Johnson’s White House to complain on behalf of the wounded New Yorker. That was when writers could rattle the crockery up and down the corridors of power and high culture.  Why don’t we have that kind of fun anymore?” – Jim Haynes, Towson, Md. 

[Ed. note: You got us, Mr. Haynes. The snip we took from The New Yorker wasn’t representative of what we were trying to impart. You are also right that Wolfe’s skewering of The New Yorker was a magnificent mockery. But I think that partly answers your question. Mocking The New Yorker made news a generation or two ago because it was so important. And it was so important, in large part, because it was so good. When we think of a magazine that once boasted the literary power of A.J. LieblingCalvin Trillin and the great Joseph Mitchell, it’s easy to understand why so many people who didn’t even live in New York wanted to know, ahem, the talk of the town. But the glory days of magazines, not just The New Yorker are behind us. The lavish budgets that allowed for in-depth reporting, careful curation, layers of precise editing and other now luxury items are gone and will not be returning. And where budgets will not support the highest standards imaginable, the cheaper replacement is often political punditry passing off as cultural comment. The new world of journalism has much to commend it, especially the greater number of points of view, lower barriers to entry and multiple modes of communication. But I will still lament the loss of the golden age of magazines.] 

Share your color commentary:
 Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make
sure to include your name and hometown.

LAT: “Lucky the frog was just centimeters away from becoming Becky Garfinkel’s meal. Instead, the teeny frog — found in a store-bought, packaged salad — is now the Garfinkel family pet. Garfinkel, a strict vegetarian, spotted the tiny critter Wednesday, seconds before she dug her fork into the packaged spring mix that she had bought that day at Target. … As thoughts about her health swirled in her head, she said, her husband shouted, ‘It’s still alive!’ … The thought of abandoning the frog in a ditch somewhere didn’t sit well with Garfinkel and her family, so they decided to keep the frog and name it Lucky. … After welcoming the creature to her family, Garfinkel decked out a reptile terrarium with moss, crickets, worms and a bowl, and placed it in her office. ‘He survived so much,’ she said. ‘I am just happy he survived and I didn’t eat him.’”

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.