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Repatriation Holiday Lobbying–Money Speaks…

by Linda Beale

Repatriation Holiday Lobbying–Money Speaks…

We’ve discussed repatriation before–the tax break being pushed by multinationals who want to bring some of their offshore profits home without paying taxes, as they did in the 2004 “one time only” repatriation break.

The reason they have so much money offshore is that they use gimmicks–such as transfers of intellectual property rights to offshore subsidiaries in low-tax jurisidctions.  These are pseudo transfers (to affiliates) of property they would NEVER really sell out of their companies to independent third parties.  Having the affiliate “own” the right means that the profits associated with the innovation carried out in the US go to the offshore company and aren’t subject to US tax until they’re officially treated as being transferred back to the parent.  “Selling” the IP to the affiliate is done solely to defer/avoid US taxes on those profits.  Of course, the transfer pricing for the intellectual property is gimmicky too–since no company would sell its main moneymaker, the idea of a comparable market price is foolish to start with.  So most of those profits should have been treated as US profits all along–and subject to tax.

A repatriation holiday would just mean more money in the pockets of the uberrich–the managers and some of the owners.   It’s just another corporatist tax giveaway that pushes upward redistribution that moves us even more resolutely towards oligarchy.  It won’t create jobs–companies already have plenty of cash to invest in this country if they thought they had customers to make money from.
But the companies probably have a pretty good chance of getting the break, even though it is a stupid waste that adds to the inequality problem and does nothing for creating jobs.  Why?
Read after the jump!
First, because some of the wealthiest and most powerful companies want it. And these days, what powerful companies want, Congress tends to be willing to give.  Google, Apple, Cisco, Oracal, and many other companies that depend on their outsourced IP are hoping they can avoid even the little bit of tax that they’ve paid in the past.

Second, because those companies have hired as lobbyists people who were very recently staffers to members of Congress who will be writing the law.  The most notorious of these is Max Baucus’s former Chief of Staff, Jeffrey Forbes. See Rubin & Drucker, Google Joins Apple in Push for Tax Holiday, Bloomberg.com, Sept. 29, 2011.  The piece notes that Forbes is part of an army of more than 160 lobbyists, 60 of which are former congressional staffers, who are pushing for the repatriation holiday.  And those aren’t really all the lobbyists–they are just the “registered” lobbyists–i.e., the proverbial ‘tip of the iceberg’.  Then there’s the WINAmerica coalition and the firm working with it.  This army of lobbyists is out to rape the country, and the same congresspeople who moan and lament about deficits are likely going to give the multinationals an $80 billion (over ten years) tax break just cause their buddies ask them nicely for it.

Even though we have proof that repatriation doesn’t create jobs–the 2004 tax holiday resulted in thousands of jobs LOST as companies fired workers even while repatriation millions–Congress is still contemplating another one.  Why?  The article notes that one thing that is being touted as an advantage is ‘flooding the US with cash.’   Doubtful.  Much of that cash may already be sitting in US banks even though not repatriated through the company.  And what is actually brought over and then paid out to managers (in even bigger outsized bonuses) and shareholders (in buybacks or dividends) is perhaps more likely to be invested in Asian markets than it is to stay in the US.  Or it will be just more fodder for the rich managers and shareholders to use to buy shares in the secondary markets from their rich peers, that top crowd that owns most of the financial assets.  Lot of good that will do the carpentars and drill press operators and other ordinary workers.

One of Boehner’s aides says that former staffers don’t make policy.  Balderdash.  Those staffers are hired to lobby because they have access and they know their former colleagues.  They have access that ordinary Americans don’t have.  They are pushing for legislative action on behalf of corporate giants.  None of them likely gives a damn that the policies they are pushing for don’t make economic sense at all for ordinary Americans.  Why should they care?  They are lobbyists in it for their own financial rewards from “selling” an idea to their former colleagues that will benefit their current bosses.

Martin Sullivan has it right, as quoted in the Bloomberg article:
The proposed holiday would reward the companies that have most aggressively parked profits in tax havens such as Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and Switzerland, said Martin A. Sullivan, a former Treasury Department economist and contributing editor for the non-partisan Tax Notes.
“A lot of what companies report as foreign profit is really U.S. profit that should be subject to U.S. tax,” Sullivan said. “Those earnings didn’t get overseas by accident. Many of these companies intentionally put them there to avoid paying U.S. taxes.”

Originally published at ataxingmatter

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Dealing with the Sunset of the Bush Tax Cuts (Part IV in a series)–the Tax Relief Coalition

by Linda Beale
crossposted with Ataxingmatter

Dealing with the Sunset of the Bush Tax Cuts (Part IV in a series)–the Tax Relief Coalition

The Tax Relief Coalition–another of the myriad anti-tax groups comprised of Grover Norquist’s group and those of similar ideology–is at it again with a letter to Congress (available on BNA) urging the passage of new legislation to pass tax cuts to extend the temporary cuts enacted under the Bush administration. The group is spending millions lobby for its interests with the dubious claim that discontinuing tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans will hit small businesses the hardest. See, e.g., Jensen & Salant, Leader on Bush Tax Cuts Wins Allies to Keep Provisions in Place, Bloomberg.com (Aug. 20, 2010) (noting that the coalition groups have spent $3.8 million since Jan. 1, 2009 on candidates and advertising, and that the Chamber of Commerce plans to spend $75 million influencing elections in its favor).

Note that the coalition–formed of “trade associations, advocacy groups, and corporations”–calls itself favoring “pro-growth tax policies”. But what it means is favoring tax cuts. It is arguable that tax cuts support economic growth–at best they are a second-rate stimulus compared to direct government spending on public and human infrastructure that provides long-term support for economic stability– such as public transportation, public communication networks, development of alternative energy sources, education (K1-university), and basic research.

These claims that the tax cuts help small businesses are at best dubious. (See, e.g., yesterday’s post outlining various reasons why the capital gains preference has very little to do with stimulating entreprenuership or helping small businesses.) The coalition tries to cast the Bush tax cuts in terms of job creation. But the fact is, the Bush regime had a lousy record for job creation, and the tax cuts that were especially favorable to corporations probably did almost nothing to contribute to job creation. The “American Job Creation Act of 2004” for example, mainly acted as a tax cut for multinational corporations that used the very low taxation of repatriated money to pay big dividends to shareholders even while they were laying off thousands of workers. Similarly, expensing provisions and other tax cut provisions (especially for oil and gas industry and other targeted industrial provisions) mainly gave more money to managers and owners, not workers. Real wages of workers have fallen, while corporations sit on big kitties of cash–keeping the productivity gains for managers and owners and not sharing them with workers and certainly not creating new jobs for new workers.

What about the small company owners that the National Federal of Independent Business brings in to calim that any tax increase is a job killer? See Bloomberg article, above. That’s a superficially self-serving claim that is probably in truth a case of blind greed keeping business owners from admitting that federal dollars spent for unemployment, infrastructure, education and other important programs will actually create a more sustainable economy that will be better for their businesses. A little bit more in taxes now will have positive impact, not negative, on the economy. And those arguments also leave out a few of the details–like the fact that the proposed tax increase on joint returns with $250,000 or more impacts very, very few small businesses.

The hypocrisy is also evident, as coalition members refuse to limit extension of the tax breaks to the lower income group, even while they complain about deficits. The deficit argument is essentially brought out to create fear in average voters and to provide a salient objection to any additional spending that does not directly go to the benefit of business managers and owners, but it isn’t a real concern since it doesn’t enter into the discussion of whether or not to extend tax breaks to the wealthy who don’t need them.

Regretably, the Democrats don’t have much backbone on this issue. Senators Conrad and Bayh, for example, have accepted the idea that it is problematic to raise taxes on anybody during an economic slowdown. That their position doesn’t make sense–a little bit more in taxes on the wealthiest Americans won’t really affect either consumption or investment in new businesses–doesn’t seem to matter.

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Ignani and the Ignavi

Robert Waldmann

AHIP The health insurance lobby just declared war on the Baucus plan. This is new, since they previously supported health care reform. It is not, however, surprising. AHIP made its condition clear, they would support health care reform provided that all were insured. Basically the individual mandate was the price for their support.

Displaying his usual inverted political genius, Baucus decided to water down the individual mandate so that some people are allowed to go without insurance. He was trying to compromise with Republicans, well in this case, with a Republican — Olympia Snowe. Thus he violated the terms of a very clear very public agreement with AHIP. It’s not as if I didn’t warn on September 2 that this is a terrible idea.

Now Baucus has lost AHIP and Snowe remains officially undecided. He dumped AHIP Prsident Karen Ignani in a bid for the Ignavi (I make that plural to refer to the Divine Comedy but pretend it is to include Nelson or Lieberman or someone).

Update: Maybe I was wrong. Maybe Baucus is an even more brilliant 11 dimensional chess player than Obama (a 12 dimensional chess player) and he knew that provoking AHIP was a brilliant strategy. The line from an anonymous “finance committee aide” is that AHIP’s attack is good for Baucus. The idea seems to be that Senators are angry with AHIP and don’t want to appear to take instructions from AHIP (doesn’t mean they don’t want to take the instructions, it just means that they don’t want it to be obvious as in changing their position the day before the big vote after a very public command).

Of course I assume that “a finance committee aide” would not make a totally bogus claim in support of the view that Sen Baucus is a genius and certainly wouldn’t demand anonymity if the claim were totally bogus. Nahhh that’s just not the way Washington works.

I’d guess that the bought and paid for insurance industry senators (definitely including Sen Baucus) aren’t even capable of being good fiduciaries of insurance company shareholders — that there obsession with compromising, watering down and settling for half a loaf (and above all pissing of the left wing of the party) lead them to water down the individual mandate which is much more critical to insurance company profits than is the avoidance of a public option.

update 2: Kevin Drum has the same theory as I do, but he writes much more goodly.

update 3: Yves Smith ways in
More comments after the jump.

Interestingly the AHIP broadside is not a press release. It is an A1 article by Ceci Conolly in The Washington Post. I thought the Washington Post was a subsidiary of the test prep industry not the health insurance industry (live and learn).

Dougj notes that The Washington Post publisher invited health industry players to pay for access to Ceci Conolly and writes “There’s a pretty strong prima facie case for pay-to-play here.”

Also AHIP didn’t just say the Baucus bill is a bad bill which will cause insurance premia to increase. They commissioned a study from PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct an analysis (it must be an analysis there are lot’s of numbers in it) and a frightening possible price tag. PricewaterhouseCoopers clearly explains, in the text of their analysis, that they made extreme and implausible assumptions to make the calculated number as large as possible. AHIP and PwC assume that they know how journamalism works. Journalists don’t look at the assumptions or any non headline number so credibility can be bought (although I didn’t know that PwC had any left to sell). John Cohn read the fine print so you don’t have to.

I’m not sure if the old approach will work now that serious journalists have to worry about geeks who actually read the analysis that interest groups buy. OK I’m pretty sure it will still work.

update: looks the approach of anonymous sources praising their bosses still works.

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Watch What I Do…..

This is my first official posting on Angry Bear. Let me start with a “thanks and delighted to be here.” I look forward to a productive interchange and expansion of the work I have been doing through ataxingmatter, my blog on tax and economic issues. I will continue to maintain the tax blog, and post here about once a week (usually with simultaneous posting on ataxingmatter).

There has been quite a bit said about Obama’s proposals for international taxation. If you read ataxingmatter, you know that I think the proposals to tighten up the way the rules work to prevent abuses are important starts in the right direction. Not surprisingly, multinational corporations have suggested that any change to the international regime that increases their taxes will make them even less competitive internationally (implying that they already have too little money to compete well) and ultimately, even quickly, lead to the demise of U.S. jobs. See, e.g., Donmoyer, Ballmer Says Tax Would Move Microsoft Jobs Offshore, Bloomberg.com, June 3, 2009.

One would think from such talk that US multinationals are just hanging on by the sheerest strings, unable to reduce costs further, leaving very small profits (if any) for their shareholders, and barely managing to pay their managers enough to keep decent talent aboard. But is that what Ballmer really means? Isn’t it more likely that it is a question of Microsoft hoping to retain all that money for its managers and owners rather than see a penny of it go to government purposes (like education, basic research)? How do we get any idea about what differences taxes make to companies when what managers say can’t really be trusted to shed much light on actual plans for the future?

Well, there is some real data on this issue that comes from the 2004 tax legislation–the corporate pay-back bill that was sold to the public with the same old claim that tax cuts would create millions of new jobs. The 2001-2003 tax bills cut revenues, but primarily lowered tax liabilities for individual taxpayers. (As I recall, Bush himself saw about a $37,000 tax cut from the 2001 legislation and Cheney more than double that.) Corporate lobbyists had agreed to this plan–ram the individual tax cuts through first and then pass a big bill fulfilling the multinationals’ wish list. The Bush administration and Congress came through in blazing colors for the corporate lobbyists, passing a host of corporate-friendly provisions under the guise of “job creation tax incentives for manufacturers, small businesses, and farmers.” (That’s the heading for Title II of the so-called American Jobs Creation Act of 2004. Even the names of the various bills ultimately passed in 2004 represent a veritable smorgasbord of propaganda–the “Homeland Investment Act”, the “American Jobs Creation Act”, and, the same year, the “Working Families Tax Relief Act”. )

The Jobs Act provisions included a host of bad policy choices all in the name of freeing up investment cash so that corporations could invest more in the good ol’ USA: even more section 179 expensing; even more accelerated depreciation for leaseholds, restaurants, aircraft, and syndication property; S corporation expansion; AMT breaks; more cross-crediting of foreign tax credits; more tax expenditures for the Big Oil, Big Timber and Big Pharm. And there was one other tax expenditure that was heavily lobbied for on behalf of multinational enterprises–a (purportedly one-time) provision for very low taxed repatriation of foreign earnings, in new section 965 of the Code. The MNEs claimed that the break would permit them to create thousands of new US jobs by reinvesting tax savings in their US businesses–investments that just couldn’t be managed under the constraints on the current tax burdens on repatriated cash. Repatriation, on the other hand, was supposed to lead to an increase in capital spending in the range of 2-3% over two years (see NBER paper, below, noting J.P. Morgan Securities’ estimate) and firms stated both confidentially and publicly that they planned to use repatriated funds for business purposes like acquisitions, capital spending, R&D, debt repayments rather than to pay out profits to shareholders.

The express purpose of the repatriation tax cut was to increase investment and viability of U.S. operations. Hiring new employees, conducting R&D, increasing capital investment in the US were all good uses, and Treasury guidelines indicated that use to pay executive compensation, dividends or stock redemptions would disqualify the repatriations from the tax benefit.

Did the corporate giants deliver? An NBER working paper by Dhammika Dharmapala, Fritz Foley and Kristin Forbes concludes that they did not. Watch What I Do, Not What I Say: The Unintended Consequences of the Homeland Investment Act, NBER Working Paper No. 15023, June 2009. Here’s the conclusion, as stated in the abstract.

Repatriations did not lead to an increase in domestic investment, employment or R&D—even for the firms that lobbied for the tax holiday stating these intentions and for firms that appeared to be financially constrained. Instead, a $1 increase in repatriations was associated with an increase of almost $1 in payouts to shareholders. These results suggest that the domestic operations of U.S. multinationals were not financially constrained and that these firms were reasonably well-governed.

Furthermore, money is fungible. The paper concludes that firms “were able to reallocate funds internally to bypass the publicly stated goals of the Act.” Id. at 5. So of the $299 billion that companies brought back from foreign subsidiaries (about 5 times the normally repatriated amount), about 92 percent of it went to shareholders in share buybacks and increased dividends. And interestingly, the firms that brought back the most money under the repatriation scheme were the firms that tended to “shield[] foreign income from U.S. taxation by using tax haven affiliates or holding companies.” The study also found that “[f]irms that increased parent equity provisions around the time of the tax holiday … had significantly higher levels of repatriations. This pattern suggests that the domestic operations of U.S. MNEs were not capital constrained and were instead providing liquidity to affiliates. These firms seem to have taken advantage of the HIA by ’roundtripping,’ that is, by replacing retained earnings that would be subject to high repatriation taxes if there were no tax holiday with new paid-in capital.” In fact, the paper includes a comparison of MNE and nonmultinationals on financial constraint indicators, showing that the MNEs are less constrained than nonmultinationals under each of the three important indicators.

At least one result was that good guys–the MNEs that didn’t use as many tax shelters to shield their foreign income and who regularly repatriated it and paid taxes on it–didn’t get nearly as much benefit from this bill as the bad guys–the MNEs that shielded their foreign income as much as they could and held it abroad until they could get this repatriation measure passed through their intensive lobbying pressure. And the bad guys didn’t do much of anything in the way of job creation, the political calling card they used to get their special tax break passed.

Seems to me we ought to at least keep this Jobs Act history in mind in the discussion of President Obama’s efforts to tighten international taxation rules and the already begun whining by MNEs that they are having such a difficult time competing that any further taxation will force them to move out of the US completely.

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