Sen. Carl Levin is opposing a member of his own party, Sen. Charles Schumer, on a proposed corporate tax holiday on overseas profits. Levin says a similar break in 2004 didnt create any jobs and that another tax holiday could hurt domestic investment.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) don't agree on much, but both are leading the charge, each in his own way, for companies to get a tax holiday on overseas profits.
As House Majority Leader, Cantor has vocally and repeatedly pushed a tax holiday that is gaining momentum on both sides of the aisle. Schumer is quietly crafting a bill with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) to pair a holiday with an infrastructure bank, which has strong support from many Democrats.
Even Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) has made a repatriation the No. 1 item on her presidential campaign's 11-point economic agenda — except, in her case, the "holiday" would never end. She would eliminate taxes on overseas profits until the end of the year and keep them at 5 percent thereafter — a small fraction of the current 35 percent corporate tax rate.
With President Barack Obama's $447 billion jobs package going nowhere on Capitol Hill, backers are pushing repatriation as perhaps the only significant stimulus for the economy on the horizon.
The corporations that would benefit from a tax holiday have naturally engaged in a massive lobbying push, arguing that they could bring back as much as $1.4 trillion in profits from overseas to invest in the United States. They argue that the current tax code encourages them to keep and invest profits overseas rather than bring the money back to the United States and pay taxes on it.
Bipartisan backing for the idea has been building, picking up support from the Blue Dog Coalition of fiscally conservative Democrats last week in the House, and Sens. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) have teamed up on a bill as well.
Supporters, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, say repatriation could create as many as 3 million jobs.
But the idea also has an army of critics from both parties. The conservative Heritage Foundation and some liberal groups have ripped the idea of a tax holiday. A Heritage paper issued earlier this month — in a split from earlier organizational support for the idea — argues that U.S. companies don't have a shortage of capital to invest, and some might simply send the cash right back overseas after taking advantage of the tax break.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) has taken a lead role opposing Schumer in the Senate. Levin released a report last week saying that the last such tax holiday, in 2004, didn't create any jobs. Indeed, according to that report, the top beneficiaries actually cut thousands of jobs in the following year.
"It's a terrible idea," Levin said. "The only thing [that] was good is executive salaries went up."
Levin said the plan would add either $40 billion or $80 billion to the deficit over the next decade, depending on whether the tax rate for the holiday was set at 10.5 percent or 5.25 percent, citing scores from the Joint Committee on Taxation.
"That is a huge hole in the Treasury," Levin said. Levin added that the proposal actually could hurt domestic investment by rewarding companies that have already shipped jobs overseas. "It's unfair competitively to companies that don't move jobs offshore," he said.
Levin even tied the issue to the Occupy Wall Street protests. "What the demonstrations reflect is a sense in this country that certain people have been given special treatment at the expense of the rest of us. That's what those '99' signs are really all about."
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said last week that giving repeated tax holidays creates an incentive for companies to ship jobs overseas if they have an expectation of more tax holidays to come, he said. And Frank said if there is a holiday, companies should have to pay "at least half" of what they owe, not the 5.25 percent rate they enjoyed in 2004.
Some Republicans, including House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (Mich.) and Senate Finance ranking member Orrin Hatch (Utah) also have been wary of embracing a tax holiday outside of a larger overhaul of business taxes. Rep. Patrick Tiberi (R-Ohio), a member of the Ways and Means Committee, said Republicans on the panel are leery of doing more short-term tax deals unless they deal with the code itself.
"It doesn't solve the problem," Tiberi said.
Tiberi said what he hears from businesses back home is that they want more certainty. "This temporary stuff is driving them crazy," he said. And he warned that doing repatriation first could remove some of the pressure for broader tax reform as part of a growth agenda.
McCain, Cantor and other repatriation supporters also want to see broader tax reform but don't want to wait.
Even if a bipartisan majority emerges to back the holiday, partisan splits could derail it. Schumer's plan to link the idea to an infrastructure bank may add even more to the deficit — and Schumer is also expected to include Davis-Bacon labor rules, a policy prized by unions but anathema to many in the GOP.
Cantor spokeswoman Laena Fallon said the repatriation issue should stand on its own. It should not be tied "to politically divisive things," she said, referring to Schumer's plan. "Rather than attaching unrelated proposals to score political points ... let's get something done," Fallon added.
McCain was also frosty to Schumer's plan to tie it to an infrastructure bank.
"Why tie it to anything?" McCain asked. "Why not just go ahead and get this $1.4 trillion back to this country and, clearly, with some caveats that they invest and create jobs, which we can provide incentives for?"
A senior Democratic aide dismissed the GOP criticism.
"They are nuts if they think they are getting repatriation by itself," the aide said.