Opinion

The Great Debate

The U.S. cannot afford to tax energy producers more

Gasoline prices are at all-time highs. As a result, energy policy concerns echo in boardrooms and family rooms across the U.S. At a recent House Energy Committee hearing on “The American Energy Initiative,” Harold Hamm, the top energy adviser of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, warned that President Obama’s proposed repeal of the energy tax provisions for oil and natural gas producers (including a manufacturing tax deduction that all U.S. manufacturers receive) would decrease drilling activity by 40 percent. Can the U.S. afford that?

President Obama wants to end the right of major U.S.-based oil companies to deduct tax payments they make to foreign governments for their overseas operations. He also wants to end tax credits that are allowed to every oil and gas company. Romney wants to protect American competitiveness by keeping the tax benefits intact for oil companies. Let’s look deeper at the energy industry and the taxes energy companies pay.

According to the American Petroleum Institute, the oil and natural gas industry pays more than $30 billion on average to the federal government in taxes, rents and royalties every year. The industry is taxed at an effective rate of 60 percent – higher than any other domestic industry.

Under President Obama’s plan, the energy industry would pay $10 billion more in U.S. taxes every year than it does now. But his logic – if the industry now pays $30 billion, an additional $10 billion would be good for the federal government – is seriously flawed.

The oil and gas industry is responsible for more than nine million jobs in the United States and contributes 7.7 percent of the country’s GDP. A 2011 study by research and consulting firm Wood Mackenzie found that increased taxes on energy producers will put a burden on the industry, ultimately resulting in fewer jobs, less GDP growth and less government revenue. The implications would likely extend to the economy, the individual and the federal government’s coffers.

from Lawrence Summers:

Time nears for an American tax overhaul

However the U.S. presidential election turns out, the trifecta of the Bush tax cut expiration, the debt limit ceiling on the horizon once again, and the Congressionally mandated sequesters – cuts in domestic spending – will force the president and Congress to wrestle with fiscal issues either in a lame duck session after the election or in early 2013. The decisions they make will have profound impacts on America’s fiscal future.

For many observers, the central question on the table is about entitlement programs: What will be done with them? Growth in entitlement spending associated with our aging population and its rising health care costs is the major factor in overall federal spending growth. But the capacity of near-term policy changes to have large impacts on that spending is less than many would suppose. The rising ratio of retirees to workers means that Social Security benefits at current levels will not be sustainable without some kind of tax increase. Sooner or later, revenue will have to rise or else outlays will have to be curtailed. While it is surely better to act sooner, the reality is that, out of necessity, action on entitlements is inevitable.

While almost everyone agrees on the desirability of containing federal health care spending, this is likely to be more difficult than we'd like to believe. Certainly beneficiaries can bear more of the cost of their government insurance than others, and there are steps like malpractice reform and the further encouragement of preventive medicine that should be taken. Yet without intrusions into the private health care system that are unlikely to be politically acceptable, there are severe limits on what can be done. Otherwise the result will be unacceptable cuts in the availability of care for the clients of federal programs. Given all the uncertainties associated with new technologies, changing lifestyles, and ongoing changes in the private system, health care reform will and should be a continuing project.

from Tales from the Trail:

The wishful thinking behind a repatriation tax holiday

By Ryan McCarthy

The opinions expressed are his own.

Big U.S. multinationals have a strange sense of timing: apparently, now is the ideal time to fight for a tax holiday. The New York Times on Monday had an in-depth look at the topic of a repatriation tax holiday, with lovely charts and a helpful video detailing the myriad ways corporations cut their tax bills by stashing profits overseas. Given the clamoring about lack of demand in the economy, the deficit talks and swollen corporate cash holdings, the lobbying push seems poorly timed at best.

New York Times' David Kocieniewski is rightly skeptical of the effort that’s currently backed by even tech titans like Apple and Google. He ferrets out an NBER study that excoriates the results of an abysmal 2004 dalliance with a repatriation tax holiday, which the study finds, led to little actual hiring and investment in the U.S. The appeal of a repatriation tax holiday is that large U.S.-based corporations could temporarily see much of their taxable income fall to 5.25 percent -- the rate often paid through overseas subsidiaries -- from 35 percent, the U.S. corporate rate. In theory, this windfall would temporarily prevent corporations from stashing profits overseas, bring in tax revenue, create jobs and spur investment.

And while Kocieniewski spends nearly 2,000 words on the issue, he doesn't mention specifics of the actual legislation in play, which make the latest tax repatriation push seem just as unpromising as its predecessor.

from James Saft:

Private equity wins, U.S. creditors lose

James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

The move to reform taxation of billions of dollars in so-called carried interest paid to hedge fund and private equity executives is dead and prominent among the mourners should be investors in U.S. debt.

A country that can't even get it together to ensure that some of its highest paid people pay as much proportionally in tax as their secretaries and personal trainers is a country with very little hope of effecting meaningful budgetary reform.

Suffice to say that the long bond didn't sell off on news that U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus has dropped a higher carried interest provision from his since-defeated tax bill, a sign that the Democrats have effectively given up hope of the measure. The news should, however, make holders of U.S. debt even more willing to sell to the Federal Reserve, currently buying Treasuries often and in size. The script has been written for tax and spending reform over the next two years and for lenders to the U.S. the story does not end happily.

Taxing spoils of the financial sector

If you want less of something, tax it.

That truism is often used as an argument against a tax on profits, or health benefits, or employment, but in the case of the rents extracted from the economy by the financial services industry here’s hoping it proves more of a promise than a threat.

The International Monetary Fund has put forward two new taxes on banks to pay the costs of future rescues, one of which is a fairly conventional “Financial Stability Contribution,” with an initial flat levy on all banks, to be refined later into something with more precise institutional and systemic risk adjustments.

More interestingly, the IMF is also proposing a “Financial Activities Tax,” (FAT) a tax on bank pay and profits which, if correctly designed, could serve as a tax on rents — the unwarranted spoils — of the financial sector.

from MacroScope:

A “Greed Tax” on banks

The International Monetary Fund has done what it was bid by the G20  and come up with proposals for getting banks to pay for the government help they receive when they get in trouble.  You can read the actual wording here, but it comes down to this:

Cat1) A "Financial Stability Contribution" which would be pooled into a fund that would use it to help weak banks, or just go into general government revenues.

2)  A "Financial Activities Tax" -- perhaps intentionally known as FAT -- to be levied on combined bank profits and remuneration (for which read "bonuses") and paid to governments.

UK bonus tax both cynical and justified

(James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own)

A cynical election maneuver it may well be, but Britain’s plan to impose a punitive tax on bonus payments is also reasonably well crafted and in broad terms justified.

Facing a monumental budget deficit and an election in months, British Chancellor Alistair Darling announced a plan to slap a 50 percent payroll tax, payable by banks, on their bonus payments in excess of 25,000 pounds to a given employee.

Banks can pay what they like to whom they like, but every pound a banker gets above the threshold means an additional 50 pence for the public purse. The tax will only raise about 550 million pounds, compared to a public sector borrowing requirement of 178 billion, and will expire in April, leaving delayed bonuses subject to a new higher 50 percent personal tax rate previously announced.

Pittsburgh: A city transformed by R&D

Phil_Bond_headshot.jpg– Phil Bond is President of TechAmerica, which represents 1,500 companies across the technology industry. The views expressed are his own. —

Will Pittsburgh, with its historical role in two American industrial revolutions, remain a leader in revitalization? Or will it be have to carry the extra burden of uncompetitive national policy?

The first revolution, perhaps a product of geographical chance, made the city and the nation a manufacturing powerhouse. The second, resulting from a tremendous act of will by the people, remade Pittsburgh into a great research and development (R&D) center that could help lead us out of the current recession. These hardworking Americans are going to need smart policy from Washington if their technology revolution, and efforts to emulate it across the country, are to continue.

from Commentaries:

Why the U.S. needs a Value Added Tax

Swelling deficits and an aging population leave few palatable options when it comes to taxes.

The best choice by far would be the creation of a new value added tax -- a "money machine" that can bring in huge sums with relatively little effort. America is alone among rich nations in not charging a VAT, and its continued unwillingness to do so will make it harder to cope with the fiscal challenges ahead.

Giving birth to a new tax will certainly not be an easy sell. The stunning 1980 reelection defeat of Al Ullman, the powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee who had advocated a VAT, is still a warning to American politicians.

The rich are not an easy quarry

Christopher Swann– Christopher Swann is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own –

Cash-strapped politicians are more willing to play Robin Hood than at any time in a generation. Tax rates on the rich may soon hit levels not seen since the 1980s.
The wealthy, alas, are not easy prey. Backed by highly paid lawyers and accountants, no other group is better able to run circles around the taxman. As a result, America’s politicians may get less cash than they bargained for and more economic distortions.

There are many easier and less disruptive ways to get the cash.

Of course, the temptation to launch a direct strike on the rich is understandable. The past three decades have been very good to the affluent. The top 1 percent of earners now account for 19 percent of America’s income, up from 9 percent in 1980. This elite group has also been quiescent, dutifully paying 40 percent of all income tax, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

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