October 25, 2017 / 11:14 PM / a year ago

Democratic champion of 1986 tax reform says Trump plan may backfire

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley, a Democrat who helped bring about former Republican President Ronald Reagan’s bipartisan tax reform more than 30 years ago, said on Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s tax plan could backfire on Republicans.

FILE PHOTO: Former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley is introduced at the Democratic National Convention at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, August 15, 2000. REUTERS/Mike Blake/Files

Bradley said the lack of detail in the nine-page plan and the ambitious goal of passing legislation before January could give lawmakers little time to digest the implications of the tax overhaul. The details are expected to be unveiled next week when lawmakers introduce legislation.

“That’s like handing somebody a Molotov cocktail with the fuse going,” he told Reuters in an interview.

“Nobody will know what it is. You hand this to somebody. They’re supposed to vote. Then they vote and the whole thing explodes,” said Bradley who represented New Jersey and was a former professional basketball star and presidential candidate.

As a senator, Bradley co-sponsored a bill in 1983 that moved Reagan and Congress toward tax reform. He worked with the Republican administration and a Republican-led Senate to get a final bill enacted.

By contrast, Trump and senior Republicans plan to pass their bill over a span of several weeks with little support from Democrats.

Earlier on Wednesday, House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan lamented the absence of “Bill Bradley Democrats” in Congress, saying in a separate Reuters interview that the Republican plan would see significant bipartisan support if today’s Democrats were more like Bradley.

But Bradley criticized Republicans for not providing details to Democrats and for pursuing a tax reform plan that he said lacks concrete principles and an effective strategy.

“We haven’t seen anything specific. In the 1980s, you had three separate extremely detailed proposals,” Bradley said, referring to two in-depth Treasury Department reports on tax reform and his own legislation. The Senate Finance Committee also held more than 30 days of hearings.

“You can’t work bipartisan unless you have something to work with,” Bradley added. “And the whole strategy is, ‘Do what I say or I’m going to come into your state and defeat you.’ That’s the whole strategy. That’s not a strategy. What about the country?”

Bradley dismissed Trump’s four principles of tax reform: simplification; middle-class tax relief; international repatriation and competitive business tax rates. “Those aren’t principles. Those are objectives,” Bradley said.

In the 1980s, lawmakers’ tax reform principles included equal incomes having equal taxes, those who earn more paying more in tax and the market as the best allocator of resources.

Since Reagan, other presidents and Congresses have tried to thoroughly reform the tax code, but all have failed.

Democrats and Republicans generally agree the code is too complex and inefficient. But each of its many tax breaks is zealously defended by lobbyists and lawmakers representing special interests, making comprehensive reform difficult.

Bradley’s advice to Trump and Republicans? “Put something out and wait three months, four months, five months. See what the reaction is. And then you’re probably going to have to modify it because certain things are not going to work,” he said.

Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Lisa Shumaker

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