Have been meaning to write about this, but I’m increasingly amazed at the overall lack of an uproar about the possibility of the government approving another corporate tax repatriation holiday.
I’ve been in and out of DC a few times in recent weeks and one thing I keep hearing is that there is a growing, and real, possibility that a second “one-time tax holiday” will be approved for corporations as part of whatever sordid deal emerges from the debt-ceiling negotiations.
I passed it off as a bad joke when I first saw news of this a few weeks ago, when it was reported that Wall Street whipping boy Chuck Schumer was seriously considering the idea. Then I read later on that other Senators were jumping on the bandwagon, including North Carolina’s Kay Hagan.
This is what Hagan’s spokesperson said:
Senator Hagan is looking closely at any creative, short-term measures that can get bipartisan support and put people back to work. One such potential initiative is a well-crafted and temporary change to the tax code that encourages American companies to bring money home and put it towards capital, investment, and–most importantly–American jobs.
For those who don’t know about it, tax repatriation is one of the all-time long cons and also one of the most supremely evil achievements of the Washington lobbying community, which has perhaps told more shameless lies about this one topic than about any other in modern history – which is saying a lot, considering the many absurd things that are said and done by lobbyists in our nation’s capital.
Here’s how it works: the tax laws say that companies can avoid paying taxes as long as they keep their profits overseas. Whenever that money comes back to the U.S., the companies have to pay taxes on it.
Think of it as a gigantic global IRA. Companies that put their profits in the offshore IRA can leave them there indefinitely with no tax consequence. Then, when they cash out, they pay the tax.
Only there’s a catch. In 2004, the corporate lobby got together and major employers like Cisco and Apple and GE begged congress to give them a “one-time” tax holiday, arguing that they would use the savings to create jobs. Congress, shamefully, relented, and a tax holiday was declared. Now companies paid about 5 percent in taxes, instead of 35-40 percent.
Money streamed back into America. But the companies did not use the savings to create jobs. Instead, they mostly just turned it into executive bonuses and ate the extra cash. Some of those companies promising waves of new hires have already committed to massive layoffs..
It was bad enough when lobbyists managed to pull this trick off once, in 2004. But in one of the worst-kept secrets in Washington, companies immediately started to systematically “offshore” their profits right after the 2004 holiday with the expectation that somewhere down the road, and probably sooner rather than later, they would get another holiday.
Companies used dozens of fiendish methods to keep profits overseas, including such scams as “transfer pricing,” a technique in which profits are shifted to overseas subsidiaries. A typical example might involve a pharmaceutical company that licenses the rights or the patent to one of its more successful drugs to a foreign affiliate, which in turn manufactures the product and sells it back to the U.S. branch, thereby shifting the profits overseas.
Companies have been doing this for years, to incredible effect. Bloomberg’s Jesse Drucker estimated that Google all by itself has saved $3.1 billion in taxes in the past three years by shifting its profits overseas. Add that to the already rampant system of loopholes and what you have is a completely broken corporate tax system.
And the whole thing is predicated on that dirty little secret – the notion, long known to all would-be major corporate taxpayers, that there would come a day when there would be another tax holiday.
That time, they hope, is now. According to Drucker, lobbyists met with President Obama last December to ask for another holiday. And now the drumbeats are rolling on the Hill for a new holiday to be included in the debt-ceiling deal.
Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the same Senator who produced the damning report of corruption on Wall Street, has been trying to fight the problem, introducing a measure that would prevent companies from accessing offshored money through correspondent accounts and branches of offshore banks.
Levin’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations has also been investigating how companies might use the cash they save from a tax holiday, surveying companies like DuPont, presumably to find out just how many of these firms really intend to create new jobs with their tax savings.
I’m shocked there isn’t more of an uproar about this. Could you imagine what the Tea Party would be saying right now if there was a law on the books that allowed immigrants to indefinitely avoid taxes on income sent back to family members in the old country, in Mexico and Venezuela and India?
Imagine the uproar if Barack Obama, in the middle of this historic revenue crunch and “We’re so broke the world is going to end tomorrow!” debt-ceiling hystgeria, decided to declare a second “one-time tax holiday” for, say, unwed single mothers, or recipients of public assistance? Middle America would be running through the streets, firing shotguns out its truck window, waving chainsaws in mall lobbies, etc.
As it is, leading members of the Senate are seriously considering giving the most profitable companies in the world a total tax holiday as a reward for their last seven years of systematic tax avoidance. Hundreds of billions of potential tax dollars would disappear from the Treasury. And there isn’t a peep from anyone, anywhere, on this issue.
We’re seriously talking about defaulting on our debt, and cutting Medicare and Social Security, so that Google can keep paying its current 2.4 percent effective tax rate and GE, a company that received a $140 billion bailout en route to worldwide 2010 profits of $14 billion, can not only keep paying no taxes at all , but receive a $3.2 billion tax credit from the federal government. And nobody appears to give a shit. What the hell is wrong with people? Have we all lost our minds?