A new year in Washington brings a new Congress, new tax writers and renewed optimism for the first major overhaul of the tax code in nearly three decades.

While last year’s effort failed to get off the ground, it laid bare many of the pitfalls of reform, and ultimately may serve as a useful stalking horse. While Republicans now control both sides of Capitol Hill, they lack a willing partner in the White House. To the extent that President Obama and congressional Democrats are serious about tax reform, they have a dramatically different vision for what that might entail. This likely means no tax reform under the current administration, which might not be a bad thing for the construction industry.

Despite years of grueling legislative groundwork and great beltway fanfare, the “Max and Dave” reform campaign of the 113th Congress went out with a whimper as Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) unexpectedly traded his Senate seat for an ambassadorial post in Beijing, forcing his term-limited House counterpart Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) to release his long-awaited overhaul in anemic “draft” form. Without the promise of a binding legislative pathway, the proposal found little support outside of the Ways and Means Committee and drew howls from groups whose tax preferences were suddenly in the crosshairs. In short, it was a dry run showing the hard choices and messy trade-offs that lay beneath the mantra of “broadening the base” to lower tax rates.

For all of the parochial hurdles standing in the way of reform efforts, a far bigger challenge lies in the fundamental disconnect between rhetoric and reality. Despite the ostensible overlap in their goals, earnest reformers on either side of the aisle are seeking vastly different means to achieve fundamentally different ends. To Republicans, tax reform represents an opportunity to lower exorbitant statutory rates and simplify the current code, thus unleashing a torrent of growth that could be used, in part, to offset lost revenues. Democrats, too, see reform as a potential cash cow, but they want to close loopholes in order to raise revenue on a zero-sum basis, with the dual aim of curbing inequality (i.e., taxing “the 1 percent”) and financing new policy measures.

If the partisan chasm wasn’t clear enough, the recent release of the administration’s fiscal year 2016 budget proposal puts it in stark relief. Along with eponymous hobbyhorses such as the “Buffett Tax” and “Gingrich-Edwards Loophole,” the administration cast an even wider net this year in its search for new revenue, effectively proposing a second death tax applicable even to those estates and bequests exempt under current law. If enacted, the elimination of “stepped up basis” would mean a confiscatory 60 percent tax on inherited capital gains.

While the president’s budget contains a dizzying array of tax increases, it notably lacks anything that could be considered “reform.” Though it certainly would broaden the tax base (to the tune of more than $2 trillion), it would actually increase rates—in this case bringing the capital gains levy to 28 percent. In fact, since the release of “The President’s Framework for Business Tax Reform” more than two years ago, Obama has not held a single public event designed to promote tax reform, according to the research firm Cornerstone Macro.

While tax reform remains a pipe dream under the current administration, there is good news for most contractors. After years of mixed messages and crosswise advocacy, the business community finally seems to be speaking with a single voice in pushing for truly comprehensive reform. And judging by the latest word out of the Ways and Means Committee, congressional tax writers have heard the message loud and clear. After incoming Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) made headlines by suggesting there may be a middle ground for corporate-centric “business tax reform,” committee members reaffirmed at a recent retreat that they would not pursue any path that might leave the pass-through community behind.

With that, House tax writers are now on the same page as incoming Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), both of whom have been adamant about the need for a broad-based overhaul. The trio has a long history of working on a bipartisan, bicameral basis—Hatch’s deal-making with Ted Kennedy is the stuff of legend, while Wyden and Ryan have worked together on entitlement reform—and such good faith and growing rapport can only serve them well in the long run.

Contrary to some of the bullish chatter on Capitol Hill, a healthy dose of perspective is in order. As illustrated in 1986, a sweeping overhaul progresses in fits and starts, requiring multiple iterations over several years, and survives more than its share of premature obituaries. Sweat equity will be necessary in the ongoing pursuit of reform, and the current process playing out in the Senate Finance Committee is an important step toward an eventual legislative package. While contractors should not hold their breath for a flatter, fairer and simpler tax system, the work of this Congress will absolutely move them toward that goal. In the end, it is undoubtedly better to wait on a comprehensive overhaul that rejuvenates the economy than settle for reform in name only.

Liam Donovan is director of legislative and political affairs for Associated Builders and Contractors. For more information, email donovan@abc.org.