A giant sucking sound, louder than a freight train, noisier than a tornado, shriller than Ross Perot yelling, “I told you so,” blasted across the nation Thursday as Republicans in the U.S. House passed their tax plan.
It was the terrible sound of jobs swept out of this country. When Perot ran for president, he said the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would siphon off American jobs. And he was right. It did.
But this is much, much bigger.
House Republicans approved a scam exempting corporations from all taxes on their foreign operations. Under the GOP proposal, corporations like Carrier and Rexnord can benefit from protections provided by American patents, courts and armed forces, while moving their factories from the United States to Mexico. Or to other low-wage, high-polluting countries like China. Or to countries that charge little or no corporate tax. Once there, instead of paying the new, super-low 20 percent corporate rate Republicans propose for U.S-based producers, the expat factories will pay no taxes to the United States. Nothing. Not a cent.
Rather than Making America Great Again, Congressional Republicans plan to Make America Grieve Again as even more family-supporting factory jobs get shipped offshore to take advantage of the new tax rate of zip.
The math behind that job transfer is simple. Continue manufacturing in the United States and pay a corporate income tax dramatically lowered from 35 to 20 percent. Or move to a ridiculously low-tax country like Switzerland, Montenegro or Paraguay, and pay a measly 9 percent to that nation and nothing to the United States.
With the proposed corporate tax gift from Republicans, CEOs could uproot factories in places like Illinois, Indiana and Western Pennsylvania and ship them to brand new facilities in Bermuda, Palau or Turks & Caicos, where the corporate tax rate is zero. The corporation would pay no taxes on profits to the country hosting the factory and nothing to the United States, which hosts the headquarters.
Republicans contend such corporations will bring those foreign profits back to the United States and invest here. Why would CEOs do that when any American plant they invest in would be billed taxes on profits while the same factory located in certain other countries would pay nothing?
Why would they do that when they didn’t before?
Right now, corporations are sitting on $2.6 trillion in overseas profits. They have not invested that money in U.S. research, factories or jobs because they don’t want to pay the current 35 percent tax rate that would be charged when those profits are returned to the country.
To lure that money back, Republicans propose to give corporations a tax holiday, cutting the rate to between 5 and 12 percent for repatriating the $2.6 billion. The GOP insists corporations will take advantage of that tax deal to bring those billions home and invest in American production. But they won’t. The proof is that they didn’t last time.
Congress gave corporations a tax holiday in 2004 during which CEOs could return foreign profits to the United States and pay a mere 5 percent tax on them in exchange for investment in U.S. research, factories and jobs.
CEOs brought back the money and grabbed that 5 percent rate, alright. But they didn’t use the repatriated cash to conduct research, build factories or create jobs. Just the opposite.
A study by the Democratic staff of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations found that the 15 corporations that benefited most from the tax holiday turned around and cut more than 20,000 jobs and diminished their pace of research spending.
Labeling the 2004 tax holiday a failed policy, the report cautions against repeating it, saying it cost the U.S. Treasury $3.3 billion in lost revenues over 10 years and led to U.S. corporations sending more funds offshore.
“There is no evidence that the previous repatriation tax giveaway put Americans to work, and substantial evidence that it instead grew executive paychecks, propped up stock prices, and drew more money and jobs offshore,” said former Michigan Senator Carl Levin, then-chairman of the subcommittee, when the report was released in 2011.
So the contention that corporations now would invest in U.S. research, factories and jobs because Republicans plan to give them another tax holiday is about as solid as smoke -- the stuff emitted from American factories pre-NAFTA and now flowing from mills moved to Mexico. The same goes for the contention that corporations will invest in U.S. research, factories and jobs with completely untaxed foreign profits.
In fact, suspending taxes on foreign profits would create a perverse incentive for corporations to make it overseas instead of making it in America. But Republicans intend to do it anyway.
Republicans say they must cater to the tax demands of corporations because other countries – Germany and Ireland, for example – offer corporations low rates. And those same Republicans contend they must cease charging American corporations taxes on their foreign operations because other countries have stopped.
That describes a race to the bottom. Pretty soon, corporations won’t pay any taxes at all, anywhere to anyone. They’ll provide nothing toward the roads they use to transport their products, the school systems that educate their workers, the Army Corps of Engineers that protects factories from floods.
If countries don’t work together to stop corporations from playing one against the other, workers will get stuck with all of the costs. That’s what’s happening under the GOP tax scam. The tax changes were supposed to benefit middle-class workers. But they do not.
An analysis of the Senate tax plan, released this week by the Joint Committee on Taxation, which is the official nonpartisan review agency serving Congress, showed the scam would give large tax cuts to corporations and millionaires while raising the levies charged to families earning $10,000 to $75,000 – that’s low-income and middle-class families.
White House National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn said this week, “The most excited group out there are big CEOs, about our tax plan.” Of course they are. Those 1 percenters and their corporations get all the breaks.
To help pay for big fat tax cuts for millionaires and zeroed-out taxes for corporations, Republicans plan to slash programs crucial to workers – like Medicare and Medicaid – and vital deductions, like those for property taxes and student loan interest.
Just like NAFTA, this GOP tax scheme is a scam, a bait-and-switch ruse. Workers pay more and get less – fewer government services and far fewer job opportunities. This time, their jobs won’t just be going south of the border. They’ll be shipped anyplace in the world touting the lowest tax rates.