'Gucci Gulch’ Stampede Expected When Tax Code Rewrite Begins

It may have been 30 years since the last overhaul of the U.S. tax code, but those who played a role in it haven’t forgotten the stampede of lobbyists from all corners of the country who descended on the House Ways and Means Committee in 1986.

That crush of industry representatives seeking to either protect or get billions in tax breaks is certain to return as the tax-writing panel takes up this year’s effort to revise the code, says former Rep. Mike Andrews (D-Texas), who pushed incentives for the energy industry while a member of the panel.

“In ’86 there were so many lobbyists in the hallway outside of the Ways and Means Committee that it was called Gucci Gulch,” says Andrews, who represented his Houston district for 12 years and sat on the panel. “That will happen again. They will be back.”

The House convenes in the Capitol's south wing

Amid an intense legislative fight, Andrews says the last overhaul only got done due to President Ronald Reagan’s involvement. Similarly, he said President Donald Trump will need to be heavily involved in this year’s effort.

“It’s doubtful the bill would have passed in 1986 without the strong leadership of President Reagan defining the issue for the American people and bringing members of Congress together,” says Andrew, now counsel to the firm of King & Spalding. “Trump will need to put his administration at the center of the debate. The political opposition and these special interests will be too great to simply leave it to the Congress and watch from the sidelines.”

Andrews said another key to success will be for Republican leaders to develop legislation that has buy in from Democrats. The best example of how not to proceed is the Affordable Care Act that Democrats pushed through without Republican support, he said.

“Republicans have a margin of error of two seats in the Senate and they’ve got to get the Democrats on board,” Andrews said.