The ongoing Apple tax scandal in Europe is the perfect opportunity to reform the U.S. tax code, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times on Thursday.
Multinationals and their lobbyists on Capitol Hill are pushing U.S. Congress to give them favorable deals even as the U.S. Department of the Treasury finalizes reporting requirements for American corporations with offices in foreign countries that could help expose their "jaw-dropping variety of tax-dodging schemes," Warren wrote.
"But instead of bailing out the tax dodgers under the guise of tax reform, Congress should seize this moment to take three crucial steps to repair our broken corporate tax code."
Last week, the European Commission slapped Apple with a $14 billion tax bill in a decision that came almost a year after it was revealed that the company had stockpiled $181 billion in profits in offshore funds in Ireland, more than any other American company. The commission found that Ireland's levy on Apple was so lenient that it amounted to illegal state aid.
The decision was met with outrage—but not at Apple. Many lawmakers and business groups jumped to the company's defense, claiming the European Union had overstepped its bounds and had unfairly punished Apple based on a loose interpretation of tax law. And the Irish government is supporting Apple's appeal of the fine, which the country's Parliament also strongly backs.
That goes to show how much the U.S. code needs reforming, Warren wrote, outlining three major steps Congress should take to fix it:
First, Congress should increase the share of government revenue generated from taxes on big corporations—permanently. In the 1950s, corporations contributed about $3 out of every $10 in federal revenue. Today they contribute $1 out of every $10, despite their reliance on federal investments to start and expand their businesses.
[....] Second, Congress should encourage investment in jobs here in the United States. Giant corporations are pushing corporate tax reform proposals that offer a lower permanent tax rate for earnings generated abroad than earnings generated at home. That is nuts.
[....] Third, Congress should level the playing field for small businesses. Small companies in Massachusetts don't stash profits in the Netherlands. They can't hire a team of accountants to set up a "reverse hybrid mismatch" to slash their taxes. This puts small businesses at a competitive disadvantage as they end up shouldering more of the burden of paying for education, infrastructure, research, the military, and everything else our nation relies on to succeed.
"For years, corporate tax dodgers have taken full advantage of all the benefits of being American companies, while searching out every possible way to avoid paying American taxes," Warren said. "Now that other leading countries are starting to get tough on tax enforcement, these tax dodgers suddenly want to move their money back to the United States. When they do, they should pay their fair share, just as working families and small businesses have been all along."
The watchdog senator's op-ed echoes calls made by progressive and tax fairness advocates last week, who warned that the tech company's promise to "repatriate" profits to the U.S. in exchange for preferential tax breaks could be just another way to avoid paying what its owes.
The commission's decision "was the latest sign that multinational corporations are running out of places to hide from paying taxes," Warren said. "The door is now open for Congress to fix our own corporate tax code, which has allowed the biggest multinationals to shirk their obligations for decades."