James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

Any way you slice it, U.S. corporate tax rates are too high

Feb 2, 2011 20:35 UTC

David Leonhardt (NYT) makes the point that U.S. companies often pay far less than the top statutory corporate tax rate of 35 percent:

Of the 500 big companies in the well-known Standard & Poor’s stock index, 115 paid a total corporate tax rate — both federal and otherwise — of less than 20 percent over the last five years, according to an analysis of company reports done for The New York Times by Capital IQ, a research firm. Thirty-nine of those companies paid a rate less than 10 percent.

Arguably, the United States now has a corporate tax code that’s the worst of all worlds. The official rate is higher than in almost any other country, which forces companies to devote enormous time and effort to finding loopholes. Yet the government raises less money in corporate taxes than it once did, because of all the loopholes that have been added in recent decades. …

The problem with the current system is that it distorts incentives. Decisions that would otherwise be inefficient for a company — and that are indeed inefficient for the larger economy — can make sense when they bring a big tax break. “Companies should be making investments based on their commercial potential,” as Aswath Damodaran, a finance professor at New York University, says, “not for tax reasons.”

Instead, airlines sometimes buy more planes than they really need. Energy companies drill more holes. Drug companies conduct research with only marginal prospects of success.

Inefficiencies like these slow economic growth, and they are the reason that both conservatives and liberals criticize the corporate tax code so harshly. Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, says it hurts job creation. Mr. Obama, in his State of the Union address, said that the system “makes no sense, and it has to change.”

It should also be noted that whether you are talking about the statutory rate or the effective rate, the U.S. is still at uncompetitive levels (via Tax Foundation):

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COMMENT

Rubbish. Any taxes at all are too high for James Pethokoukis. Corporate tax rates in the United States are among the lowest in the world. Combine that with the loopholes that corporate lobbyists have bought for their clients, and most US corporations pay no tax at all.

Posted by GetpIaning | Report as abusive

Are Democratic moderates breaking right on spending?

Feb 2, 2011 17:19 UTC

A nice piece of analysis of the Corker-McCaskill budget proposal from Jed Graham over at IBD’s Capital Hill blog:

On Tuesday, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., joined with Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., to propose the Commitment to American Prosperity Act, which would gradually lower the ceiling for all federal spending to 20.6% of GDP by 2020, down from a projected 24.7% this year.

The Corker-McCaskill CAP bill goes a big step further than President Obama’s Fiscal Commission, which aimed to reduce spending to 21.8% of GDP by 2020. And it does so without the inducement for Democrats of more than $1 trillion in tax hikes over the coming decade.

Under the Corker-McCaskill vision, entitlements would no longer be entitlements; rather, they’d have to vie for annual budget dollars like any other program and their spending could grow faster than the economy only if spending on other programs were to shrink as a share of the economic pie.

McCaskill is among nine first-term Democrats elected in 2006 who could face challenging re-election battles in 2012. While she is the only Democrat to sign on to the bill introduced with eight GOP backers, McCaskill’s move may be the clearest sign that vulnerable party moderates intend to make significant progress on deficit reduction this year.

“At a time when many families have been forced to tighten their pocketbooks, Congress must also learn to do the same,” McCaskill said in a statement. “This bill isn’t just about cutting back this year or next year; it’s about instilling permanent discipline to keep spending at a responsible level.”

Debt ceiling battle could turn into trench warfare

Feb 2, 2011 16:09 UTC

Republicans aren’t scared to toy with the U.S. debt limit. Both parties now seem to agree that failing to raise the country’s borrowing cap would be a disaster. But brinkmanship looks likely as Republicans hold out for cuts far deeper than Democrats will easily accept. Pushed far enough, the tactic could still rattle Treasury markets.

Leaders inside the GOP certainly know their recent political history. And they have no intention of allowing their party to suffer a repeat of what happened in 1995. When Republicans took control of Congress that year, they squandered public confidence by being seen as responsible for shutting down the government in a budget dispute with President Bill Clinton.

The political damage would be far worse today if Republicans took the fall for making Uncle Sam look as though he might default on his obligations. But the GOP also must contend with its new Tea Party colleagues. The newcomers say they want to radically shrink the federal government in exchange for acceding to raising the debt ceiling. At $14.3 trillion currently, the limit could be reached in two months. One faction says it wants to cut non-security spending by 50 percent — also excluding Social Security and Medicare — by $2.5 trillion over 10 years. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is prepared to go even further.

By contrast, President Barack Obama is looking to trim just $40 billion a year by freezing current spending at current levels. Reconciling what GOP spending hawks want and what Obama would conceivably accept will be difficult. Republican leaders are already planning for temporary gridlock. One option is to explicitly prioritize paying the interest on public debt. All other spending would need to be cut by $125 billion for each month the stalemate continues. Another path would be to raise the ceiling, adopt the Obama freeze but also include strict spending caps. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouris have cooked up a bill that would do the following: “Put in place a 10-year glide path to cap all spending – discretionary and mandatory – to a declining percentage of the country’s gross domestic product, eventually bringing spending down from the current level, 24.7 percent of GDP, to the 40-year historical level of 20.6 percent.”

The release of Obama’s budget in two weeks will give a better sense of the gap between the two sides. Until it is closed, investors in U.S. bonds need to steel themselves for rhetoric that sounds more alarming than the consensus on the debt ceiling suggests.

COMMENT

No way! Keep printing new money, keep devaluating the dollar!

Love to see the figures of our interest payments on the national debt: Much of the budget is getting sent to bolster the holders of our bonds economies of China and the middle east.

Our tax dollars hard at work. Fix this and more ambitious social will be more realistic.

The pain is too great though, and the politicians will keep kicking the can down the road; they care more about their jobs than America.

Freeze the deficit? How about balancing the budget? Better yet, how about paying down the debt?

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