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Trumponomics Daily—Thursday, March 2

The Trump administration is doubling down on its dubiously optimistic schedule for tax reform. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, in a Fox Business interview Wednesday, said the president will sign an overhaul by the August recess. “That’s a very aggressive timetable but realistic and something that the President and I are very committed to doing,” he said. It is indeed aggressive: There are five months until that recess, and the House only has 68 legislative working days in that window. Before the tax-writing committees can focus on the project, they have to complete the messy and potentially unconquerable task of replacing Obamacare — or decide to set it aside. Those panels have yet to draft tax reform bills; there have been no hearings; and Republicans are still arguing among themselves over the basic contours of an agreement. On one key point, though, the White House could be moving toward the House GOP’s preferred approach: Larry Kudlow, an informal Trump adviser, announced that within the administration, the so-called border adjustment tax, which would raise $1 trillion in new revenue by taxing imports, is “winning.”

Meanwhile, the president’s in-house economic brain trust is getting an infusion of GOP establishment insiders. Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs president now chairing Trump’s National Economic Council, earlier this week announced 13 senior staff appointments, eight of whom served in George W. Bush’s administration. They’ve also got extensive corporate and Congressional experience among them. Personnel isn’t destiny, but having a fully-formed team that knows the levers of government should give Cohn and his corporate-friendly approach a lift. The Wall Streeter is trying to carve out a fiefdom inside a West Wing that’s so far been dominated by chief strategist Steve Bannon and his economic nationalist vision.

And in an (encouragingly productive) exchange yesterday, a reader challenged my criticism of Trump’s address to Congress for lacking policy specifics. “Speeches to Congress are historically vague because they offer grand visions rather than nuts and bolts,” he wrote. That prompted me to dig up Ronald Reagan’s first such speech, delivered on Feb. 18, 1981. It’s worth a look, as a point of comparison. Note both how that new president didn’t shy from delivering tough medicine Trump avoided — and the eye-glazing detail Reagan engaged to describe his proposed budget cuts, beginning by “asking that you join me in reducing direct Federal spending by $41.4 billion in fiscal year 1982, and this goes along with another $7.7 billion in user fees and off-budget savings for a total of $49.1 billion.” Reagan went on to enumerate, and justify, cuts to everything from the Export-Import Bank’s loan authority to Postal Service subsidies. It didn’t make for electric oratory, but nobody could come away from that speech and claim the president hadn’t offered Congress a clear direction.

Tory Newmyer
@torynewmyer
tory_newmyer@fortune.com

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