IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig’s recent comments before my former colleagues on the Senate Finance Committee represents the larger problem with any proposal to raise the federal corporate income tax rate. As Commissioner Rettig noted last month, “The amount of taxes going uncollected by the federal government could be as much as $1 trillion or more per year,” an estimate “far beyond the official $441 billion difference between taxes paid and taxes owed annually.” Any increase to our country’s globally competitive corporate tax rate would be the wrong solution to the wrong problem. Worse still, raising the corporate rate wouldn’t just grow the foregoing tax gap – it would also grow the competitiveness gap between the United States and the countries with which we vie for investment and jobs.
With a combined rate of more than 25%, American businesses already pay a higher tax rate than the one required by global competitors. For reference, companies in the countries that constitute the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development are subject to an average rate of 23.4%. The recently proposed 28% federal rate would swell to more than 32% once state and local taxes are accounted for. Such a figure threatens to put us even further behind competitors like China – whose 25% rate already undercuts our current one. It would also give the United States the dubious distinction of having the highest rate in the world yet again. By contrast, as the Wall Street Journal reports, “nine of the world’s largest and most advanced economies have reduced their top corporate tax rate in the past four years.” Meanwhile, France, the Netherlands, and Sweden “have announced they will implement changes to [reduce]their statutory corporate income tax rate over the coming years,” according to the Tax Foundation.
Experts all along the political and ideological spectrum have previously cautioned about the harmful consequences of a higher corporate tax rate on both our economy at large and American workers. At the macro level, the widely recognized consequences of raising the corporate rate include companies moving headquarters overseas and investment capital finding a home elsewhere. Over the course of the past two decades, China has added 114 Global Fortune 500 headquarters, while the United States has lost 58. Today, China has a total of 124, while the United States has 121. These statistics underscore why the OECD considers corporate taxes to be the “most harmful type of tax for economic growth.” And workers of all income levels ultimately pay the price for tax hikes in the form of lower wages and lost jobs. Per one Congressional Budget Office economist, “domestic labor bears slightly more than 70 percent of the long run burden of the corporate income tax.” As the Harvard Business School’s Mihir A. Desai adds, “its burden falls most heavily on workers.”
Unlike the consequences on the American worker and on the American economy, an increase in the corporate rate would not have any effect whatsoever on companies that are already paying little to no tax – for 28% of zero, of course, still totals zero. Rather than saddling American businesses with a more than 33% increase in the corporate rate – a barrier to the goal of Building Back Better – Washington should instead seek to better enforce the globally competitive tax rate that is already on the books. It is a misguided approach to increase the burden on job-creating businesses of all sizes while ignoring those who evade their fair share. Raising the corporate rate would be particularly painful as our country fights to regain its footing and get back to full employment in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic. According to one recent estimate put forth by the National Association of Manufacturers, “one million jobs would be lost in the first two years if the corporate tax rate increased to 28 percent.”
Congress should seek to eliminate the loopholes that contribute to our country’s $1 trillion tax gap instead of the jobs that contribute to our country’s economic recovery.