The House and Senate tax bills would be a monumental mistake for the country for many reasons, but one compelling reason is the disastrous way they treat foreign corporate profits and encourage companies to shift their operations and the economic benefits of intellectual property overseas. It sounds preposterous, but it’s true. During my 36 years in the U.S. Senate, I spent a lot of time on tax issues. As chair of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, I conducted multiple investigations into how highly profitable multinational corporations use offshore tax havens to avoid paying taxes that most corporations and small businesses operating here at home have to pay.
The biggest multinationals are some of our most prestigious companies like Apple, Caterpillar and Microsoft. I sat through hours of sworn testimony exposing their convoluted schemes to avoid paying taxes. At one hearing with Apple chief executive officer Tim Cook, it was clear that the company’s action to shift certain economic rights to intellectual property from the United States to tax havens overseas lacked any business purpose other than avoiding taxes. When I asked him about that practice, Cook said, “If you don’t like it, change the tax law.”
Well, I don’t like it. It’s not good for America, and we should change it. But the House and Senate tax bills would change it for the worse in three compelling ways. First, the House and Senate tax bills would create a huge incentive for U.S. companies to move operations overseas by making the tax on overseas earnings less than the tax on earnings here in the United States. Right now, corporations pay the same tax rate on profits earned here or abroad when those profits are brought back to the United States. The current bills would change that. Both propose that multinationals pay a 20 percent tax rate on profits earned here at home but half of that or less on profits earned abroad.
Second, the bills would make permanent the loophole that allows U.S. companies like Apple to shift their economic rights to intellectual property overseas and avoid paying U.S. taxes on the billions of dollars in royalties its tax haven subsidiaries collect on products utilizing its U.S. protected patents and copyrights. Making what has been a temporary loophole permanent will encourage even more companies to follow Apple’s practice. That makes no sense and is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing to maintain and grow U.S. jobs.
Third, in devising a formula for the repatriation of the almost $3 trillion currently stashed overseas, the bills give a huge break — a $500 billion tax cut — to the companies that have kept their profits offshore waiting for a tax holiday. A modest tax break to achieve repatriation of those overseas funds might be worth doing were the bills also ending the tax haven loopholes that allow corporations to ship profits overseas. But these bills do the opposite. Rather than eliminate the incentives and loopholes, they increase them. On top of that, the bills fail to require that companies spend the repatriated profits on job expansion or research and development. Corporations are free to use the cash to repurchase their stock, on dividends, or even on increased executive pay.
Poll after poll shows Americans overwhelmingly oppose tax cuts for profitable corporations. They think such corporations should pay more, not less, to support the country. Giving corporations huge tax cuts on their foreign profits also threatens fiscal calamity. Corporations used to provide one-third of our tax revenues but now only provide about one-tenth. These bills would cut their share of the tax burden even further, despite the need for revenues to modernize our infrastructure, support education, train our workforce, and tame our widening deficits.
The Senate should not support a tax bill that incentivizes the transfer of corporate operations, profits, and the economic rights to intellectual property overseas. Such a bill would be a job killer and would significantly reduce tax revenue. It would jeopardize the future economic growth of our country. I’m hoping my former colleagues will prevent this monumental mistake in tax policy from happening.