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Linda Qiu
By Linda Qiu December 7, 2016

Corporate tax code resists change

President Barack Obama will leave office with the same top business tax rate as when he entered.

Obama proposed reforms to the corporate tax code in his 2016 budget (and again in the 2017 budget proposal) that included several headline-grabbing ideas. They included:

• lowering the top corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 28 percent, and a 25 percent rate for domestic manufacturers;

• imposing a 19 percent global minimum tax on foreign income;

• imposing a one-time 14 percent transition tax on business profits held overseas;

• and limiting the ability of U.S. businesses to move overseas.

The plan left experts and advocates across party lines disappointed, and ultimately didn't go anywhere.

The progressive group Citizens for Tax Justice lauded the principle of tackling international tax avoidance, but said Obama's proposal would actually benefit "the worst corporate tax dodgers."

The Tax Foundation, a free-market oriented think tank, estimated that the plan would shrink the economy, lowers wages and investment and reduces the number of available jobs.

"The devil is always in the details," said Tax Foundation analyst Scott Greenberg. "Ultimately, talks about corporate tax reform didn't go very far."

Plus, wrote Brookings Institution economics fellow Robert Pozen, the tax rates Obama proposed were politically unrealistic.

"Most people who look at the corporate tax system today consider it as every bit as dysfunctional as when Obama entered office, maybe more," said Joseph Thorndike, a tax historian with the trade publication Tax Analysts.

We rate this Promise Broken.

Our Sources

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson August 9, 2013

President proposed it in Chattanooga speech, though odds in Congress are long

President Barack Obama has often expressed frustration that his jobs proposals have been blocked by congressional Republicans. But that doesn't mean he's stopped trying.

During the 2012 campaign, Obama promised to bring down corporate tax rates on "domestic manufacturers by nearly a quarter -- while closing tax preferences and loopholes to pay for it."

Obama offered Republicans a "deal” during a speech in Chattanooga, Tenn., on July 30, 2013 -- a "deal that simplifies the tax code for our businesses and creates good jobs with good wages for middle-class folks who work at those businesses.”

The Chattanooga proposal addresses the promise we're rating here.

Under Obama's proposal, the top corporate tax rate would be cut from 35 percent to 28 percent. This would be revenue-neutral -- that is, bringing in the same amount of tax revenue -- by closing a variety of exemptions that savvy companies can now use to cut their effective tax rate well below the theoretical maximum of 35 percent.

In the meantime, Obama would also mandate a special tax rate for manufacturers of 25 percent.

"I'm willing to work with Republicans on reforming our corporate tax code, as long as we use the money from transitioning to a simpler tax system for a significant investment in creating middle-class jobs,” Obama said. "That's the deal.”

However, it's worth noting that the reaction of Republicans in Congress suggests that this proposal, at least in its current form, is not exactly on a glide-path to enactment.

Republicans dismissed the plan as a warmed-over proposal that had already gone nowhere in Congress. The GOP also showed little or no interest in accepting other provisions of the "deal,” such as a hike in the minimum wage and increased federal investment in clean energy and manufacturing.

The New York Times reported that "while the president presented the proposal as a concession, Republicans dismissed it more acidly than usual. ‘It's the opposite of a concession," said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio.”

So, Obama used a high-profile speech to propose a cut the statutory tax rate on manufacturers by one-quarter, to be paid for by closing tax preferences -- essentially, what he had promised during the 2012 campaign. It faces long odds to enactment, but it does represent a tangible effort to make good on his promise. We rate it In the Works.

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