What is comprehensive tax reform?
The term refers to broad, sweeping changes to the tax system. What qualifies as “comprehensive” is a judgment call.
Rather than taking a piecemeal approach, making small changes to provisions of the tax code, comprehensive reform would address the inequities, complexities, and inefficiencies of the entire tax system. The last comprehensive reform to the US tax system took place in 1986, when the Tax Reform Act lowered income tax rates and broadened the tax base.
Some more recent proposals are more of the same, broadening the tax base to lower tax rates without lowering revenue. Other proposals would scrap the current system entirely, replacing the income tax with a consumption-based tax system. But the broad goals of greater fairness, efficiency, and simplicity remain the same.
Updated May 2020
Bradford, David. 1986. Untangling the Income Tax. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Bipartisan Policy Center. 2010. “Domenici-Rivlin Debt Reduction Task Force Plan 2.0.” Washington, DC: Bipartisan Policy Center.
Gale, William G. 1999. “Flat Tax.” In Encyclopedia of Taxation and Tax Policy, edited by Joseph J. Cordes, Robert D. Ebel, and Jane G. Gravelle, 155–158. Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press.
Gale, William G., and Benjamin H. Harris. 2011. “A VAT for the United States: Part of the Solution.” In The VAT Reader: What a Federal Consumption Tax Would Mean for America, 64–82. Falls Church, VA: Tax Analysts.
Hall, Robert E., and Alvin Rabushka. 2007. The Flat Tax, 2nd ed. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press.
National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. 2010. “The Moment of Truth.” Washington, DC: National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.
President’s Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform. 2005. Simple, Fair, and Pro-Growth: Proposals to Fix America’s Tax System. Washington, DC: President’s Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform.
Toder, Eric, Joseph Rosenberg, and Amanda Eng. 2013. “Evaluating Broad-Based Approaches for Limiting Tax Expenditures.” National Tax Journal 66 (4): 807–832.