Charles Dharapak, File, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Cutting corporate tax rates and deleting loopholes is just what most economists prescribe for the tangled U.S. tax code.
So why isn't everyone cheering the plan President Barack Obama unveiled Tuesday to slash the top corporate tax rate and end breaks that let some companies pay little or nothing in taxes?
Economists note that Obama's plan would upturn the very playing field the administration says it wants to level. It would give manufacturers preferential treatment: Tax breaks would effectively cap their rate at 25 percent. Other companies would pay up to 28 percent.
The current top corporate tax rate is 35 percent.
Some say such varying rates can distort the economy by diverting investment into some industries and away from others that might pack a bigger economic punch.
"The administration is not making sense," says Martin Sullivan, contributing editor at publisher Tax Analysts. "The whole idea of corporate tax reform is to get rid of loopholes, and this plan is adding loopholes back in."
Other economists oppose a separate plank of the Obama plan: a minimum tax on foreign earnings of U.S. multinational companies. No other country imposes such a tax on its companies, they note. U.S. businesses would face a competitive disadvantage.
Facing resistance from Republicans and many businesses, Obama's plan is in any case a longshot proposal so close to Election Day.
"For anything that Obama recommends during an election year and with a divided Congress, the best one can say is, 'Good luck,'" says Henry Aaron, senior fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution. "Those who stand to lose are really upset and will work hard to defeat it."
Just about everybody agrees something has to change. When Japan enacts a corporate tax cut in April, the United States will be left with the highest tax rate in the developed world.
That puts the U.S. companies that actually pay the official corporate tax rate at a disadvantage against their foreign competitors. (Many U.S. companies effectively pay lower rates because of tax breaks.)
The loophole-riddled U.S. tax code now benefits numerous industries over others. One tax break, for example, lets oil companies write off drilling costs immediately instead of over time, as most businesses must.
In the end, different industries can pay far different effective rates. The Treasury Department says U.S. utility companies pay an average effective tax rate of 14 percent. By contrast, retailers pay an average 31 percent.
The administration says the point of its tax plan is to make the system fairer and more efficient — not to squeeze more overall tax revenue from corporations. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner calls the current tax code "fundamentally unfair." But the administration also needs to end some loopholes to help pay for a lower corporate tax rate.
The White House argues that tax breaks for manufacturers could ultimately pay off for the economy. When factories expand, for example, the benefits tend to spill into other businesses: Shipping companies and warehouses must add jobs, too, to transport and store the goods that manufacturers are producing.
Economists also note that manufacturers account for a disproportionate amount of the research and development that create innovative products and new ways of doing business. The National Science Foundation has found that manufacturing companies are nearly three times likelier to introduce a new or significantly improved product than other companies are.
- Washington Post writer: Mitt Romney lost...
- Colorado Mormons join other faiths in...
- Pew study: News media inserted bias into gay...
- Video: Miss Utah USA flubs answer at Miss USA...
- NPR writer 'slightly' defends Miss Utah USA's...
- Facebook goes down, users flood Twitter
- Cap'n Crunch refutes claims he's not actually...
- Parents rally after Canadian elementary...
- Pew study: News media inserted bias... 52
- Washington Post writer: Mitt Romney... 36
- Video: Miss Utah USA flubs answer at... 26
- Parents rally after Canadian elementary... 23
- New York English teacher assigns... 18
- Officials: NSA programs broke terrorist... 16
- IRS official: Washington scrutinized... 15
- NSA director says surveillance programs... 15