Policy-ish

What An '80s Tax Reform Fight Says About Health Legislation Now

Health and taxes aren't the usual combo of life's inevitabilities.

The loafers lobbyists made famous.

hide captionThe loafers lobbyists made famous.

DavidAll06s/Flickr

But as NPR's Linda Wertheimer reports, the remaking of the federal tax code against long odds in the '80s may tell us something about the prospects for an overhaul of health care.

Two decades ago, Republicans and Democrats each had their reasons for wanting to transform the tax system. President Reagan made lowering taxes his top domestic priority. Democrats, who controlled the House at the time, wanted to close loopholes that favored the wealthy and corporations.

Bill Bradley, then a senator from New Jersey, says that proved a winning formula:

It just made a lot of sense to cut tax rates, who's not for that, and to pay for it by eliminating loopholes that allowed different people making the same income to pay different taxes.

Bradley figures it may be possible to repeat the performance for health-care legislation by marrying two other big ideas: covering everyone and cutting health costs.

Add some presidential persuasion after a bill emerges from conference and something might just get done, Bradley says.

The Wall Street Journal's Alan Murray, who co-authored Showdown at Gucci Gulch about the tax battle, offers another ingredient for the unlikely legislative success — no lawmaker wanted to be blamed for a failure to change the system.

"It was the people in Congress saying, "I can't be the person who killed it. Don't let the dog die on my doorstep," Murray recalls.

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