(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
The Wall Street Journal has news of some actual developments in the ongoing fiscal cliff negotiations: this morning, it reported that President Obama will add corporate tax reform to his offer to House Republicans, in an effort to bring them along and invite a buy-in from the pesky CEOs crowding up the airwaves during most of this saga.
The Journal says “The White House’s corporate-tax suggestion wasn’t specific” but that “White House officials, in making the suggestion, cited a corporate-tax plan the administration unveiled in February.” The plan the White House outlined earlier this year, if you don’t recall, was to lower the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 28 percent while closing corporate tax loopholes to a degree that enough revenue is raised to offset the rate reduction.
So you can immediately see the first problem with Obama’s proposal—since it’s revenue-neutral, it asks corporate America to contribute nothing to a final deficit reduction passage.
Citizens for Tax Justice immediately flagged Obama’s revenue-neutral plan as problematic when the White House released it earlier this year. CEOs like to whine that the statutory corporate tax rate in America of 35 percent is the highest in the world, but CTJ studied the Fortune 500 companies that had profits in each of the past three years and found that their average effective tax rate was actually just 18.5 percent, thanks to a variety of loopholes, exemptions, and offshoring. Thirty of those corporations had negative tax rates, meaning they actually got money from the Treasury over that three-year period.
CTJ thus concluded “The first goal of corporate tax reform should be to increase the overall amount of tax revenue collected from U.S. corporations.” But Obama’s plan doesn’t do that.
Worse, his plan would quite likely give the corporations an even lower final tax bill once it’s implemented—or rather, not implemented. Obama’s corporate tax plan suffers from the same problems as Romney’s income tax plan: it lowers rates, which is immediate and likely permanent, but doesn’t actually specify enough loopholes to make up the revenue. CTJ studied Obama’s February proposal and found that is specified only about a fourth of the loopholes that needed to be closed in order to offset the rate reductions and “only gives vague suggestions” about where the other 75 percent of the revenue would come from.
It’s quite likely that corporate America and its allies in Congress would fight mightily and successfully to preserve their special tax benefits, and this same Journal story notes that when Obama released his earlier corporate tax plan, “Many [business groups] were supportive of the proposal to lower rates but worried about which industries might get hurt by an accompanying elimination of tax breaks.”