All or Nothing? The Obama Budget Proposals and BEPS
6 Pages Posted: 18 Feb 2015 Last revised: 6 Mar 2015
Date Written: February 16, 2015
There is a wide bipartisan consensus that the US international tax regime is broken. We have the highest corporate tax in the OECD, which at 35% imposes a real burden on corporations earning mostly US source income. At the same time, US based multinationals pay very low effective tax rates on foreign source income earned through their subsidiaries, leading to a strong incentive to shift profits out of the US. Finally, the US is among the few countries to fully tax dividends paid by foreign subsidiaries to their domestic parents, leading to the “trapped income” phenomenon in which $2 trillion of low-taxed earnings of those subsidiaries cannot be repatriated because of the tax on repatriations, and have to be declared as “permanently reinvested” overseas despite increasing difficulties to find something to do with this pile of money.
There is also a broad consensus about what needs to be done: reduce the corporate rate, broaden the base by taxing offshore profits, and eliminate the tax on repatriations, which affects behavior in negative ways without raising revenue. President Obama’s budget for fiscal 2016 does all three, but in a half hearted way that does not fully address the problems and creates new ones.
There is, however, a better way. The G20 and OECD Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) project has established that our major trading partners all want to eliminate double non-taxation, and that they are willing to revise their Controlled Foreign Corporation (CFC) rules to do so, with specific proposals due in September, 2015. The President should use this opportunity to convince the leaders of the G20 to eliminate deferral or exemption of CFCs at their normal corporate rate, which is always higher than 20%. Such a multilateral solution deals with all the normal objections to abolishing deferral unilaterally in the name of competitiveness, neutrality, or the need to prevent corporate expatriations. It will enable the US to achieve real corporate rate reduction and base broadening without leaving in place the incentives to invert or to shift profits overseas. And it will generate extra revenue that can be used to reduce the top marginal individual tax rate, a move that will please Congressional Republicans and make tax reform easier to swallow for the non-incorporated sector of US business.
Keywords: tax reform, BEPS
JEL Classification: H26
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation