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For years, Washington has been trying unsuccessfully to pass tax reform legislation. Although the tax code is clearly broken, lawmakers have been unable to reach a consensus on reforming the system. Despite years of determined efforts by tax writing committees, blue-ribbon commissions, and the tax community, reform has gone nowhere.

As President Trump and the new Congress begin yet another effort to pass tax reform, they should take a close look at how President Ronald Reagan persuaded a reluctant Congress to pass his historic tax cut in 1981 and the Tax Reform Act of 1986. Simply put, Reagan forced Congress to pass his tax reforms by going over their heads and making the case for tax reform straight to the American people. The real reason we haven’t seen tax reform in more than 30 years is that no president has pushed for it like Reagan did.

I was at the Treasury Department during the Reagan administration, and I saw first-hand the reluctance of most members of Congress to act on the Reagan tax bills. In 1981, most members of Congress thought the Reagan tax cuts were too big and would deprive them of the ability to pass incremental targeted tax cuts every few years. In 1985, senior members of both political parties begged Reagan not to propose a major tax reform bill, telling him that no one wanted to be forced to pick the winners and losers necessary to pass tax reform.

But Reagan was determined to pass his tax reforms, and he was willing to put his reputation on the line and take the case for tax reform directly to the American people.

Like any other legislative initiative, the administration put together the usual public relations campaign for tax reform, including White House events, meetings, phone calls and media briefings, combined with a full-scale lobbying campaign aimed at Congress. But more importantly, Reagan took to the airwaves with dozens of prime-time, nationally-televised speeches and radio addresses to the American people, asking for their support and their help in persuading Congress to act.

In 1981, in his first few months of office, Reagan gave two nationally-televised speeches from the Oval Office and two nationally-televised speeches to joint sessions of Congress on his tax proposal. On the eve of a critical vote in the House, Reagan called on the American people from the Oval Office to contact Congress to voice their support for his tax plan. The next day, the phones were ringing off the hooks in congressional offices. Then-Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, who opposed the Reagan bill, said that Congress was hit by a “telephone blitz like the nation had never seen before. It was devastating.” The House passed the bill the next day.

Four years later, Reagan did it again, with a series of radio and television speeches from the Oval Office and to joint sessions of Congress asking the American people for their support. In a speech from the Oval Office, Reagan asked the American people to “tell your Senators and Representatives you support tax reform. Make your voices heard in Washington, with a voice strong enough to make the politicians do what’s right.”

The American people responded, flooding Washington with calls and letters, and forcing politicians to do what was right and pass tax reform. Reagan’s tax reform campaigns connected him to the American people, fulfilling his campaign promises and establishing him as a strong and effective leader.

If Trump is serious about his tax reform plan, he should do what Reagan did and take the case to the American people.

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Bruce Thompson is a consultant in Washington and served as assistant secretary of treasury during President Ronald Reagan’s administration.

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