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Monday, August 17, 2015

How to Cut Taxes When Congress Won't

Imagine a 2017 with a newly sworn-in President Paul (or Cruz), but a Congress no more and perhaps less conservative than the current one.

The President announces as one of his main legislative priorities a comprehensive reform of the tax system, including reducing the top marginal individual federal income tax rate from the current 44% or so to 25%. However, after extensive debates accompanied by great acrimony and perhaps a filibuster or two, Congress refuses to enact the President's tax reform.

Once upon a time, one might have thought that was the end of it. Congress makes laws, including tax laws, and the President enforces them. If Congress will not change the law, it remains what it was. That's the Constitution for you.

Today, however, we live in more enlightened times where thanks to new legal learning—or perhaps a willingness to exploit long-standing Constitutional loopholes to do things so contrary to the structure and spirit of the Constitution that earlier, more primitive generations would have blanched at it—we know that the President actually has the power to repeal or amend laws on his own unreviewable discretion.

So the President announces that, while he would have liked Congress to pass his tax reforms, that institution is so "dysfunctional," "gridlocked," or even "held hostage by partisan extremists hostile to tax relief," he now has really no choice but to use his own powers to address the problem. He proceeds to issue an executive order instructing the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Justice not to enforce the tax law against anyone who can demonstrate that they have paid at least 25% of their adjusted gross income in taxes. Or perhaps, more politically but equivalently in effect, to make such enforcement their "lowest enforcement priority."

The net effect is to enact the President's tax reform without Congress; nobody pays more than the President's new proposed rates.

Surely—given current precedent and the lack of objection thereto by the Great and the Good of Progressive Academia and Press—this would, regardless of its policy merits, be entirely legal and Constitutionally unobjectionable.