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The "candy option" for tax reform

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

As full-blown tax reform looks more and more like an unreachable stretch, there's increasing conversation on the Hill about what's being called a "candy option" — all the goodies, with none of the pain.

That would mean lower personal and corporate rates, plus some limited repatriation, funded largely by deficit spending.

  • The case for: "It's something they can pass," said a Republican lobbyist who's deeply connected to all sides of the debate. "We need to junk our current tax code for one more suited to the modern economy. But the ability to accomplish that goal just isn't there."
  • The objection: Both House and Senate leadership sources tell us they don't think the "candy" route is feasible. "The problem with the candy option is it grows quickly," a senior Senate aide said. What he meant is that once you cut corporate rates, politically you have to also deal with pass-throughs for small businesses and also lower individual rates.
  • Then there's the "Ivanka credit" for child care. Pretty soon, you've racked up several trillion in revenue losses. And while you might not have angered anyone by taking away their goodies or imposing a new revenue mechanism (like the border-adjustment tax), you've still got a heck of a job convincing Republicans in either chamber to pass something that blows a hole in budget and is by definition temporary (since under reconciliation, you can't make the cuts permanent if they add to the deficit).
  • The bottom line: Speaker Ryan is still determined to go as big as possible and do real tax reform. But the White House needs to buy into it and get right behind it. Otherwise there'll be the same disaster as healthcare. A senior House aide said: "When it comes to real tax reform, there is no easy option."