House Democratic and Republican tax writers debated the effects of tax reform’s corporate income tax cut during a February 11 hearing convened by Democrats. Democratic lawmakers have consistently called for an increase in the corporate tax rate since it was lowered from 35 percent to 21 percent in 2017 by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) ( P.L. 115-97).
During the House Ways and Means Committee hearing, Democrats largely criticized low federal income tax receipts from corporations following the TCJA’s corporate tax rate cut, while Republicans focused on highlighting the resulting economic growth and global competitiveness.
Corporate Tax Revenue
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., opened the hearing by criticizing corporate tax revenues for being at their lowest level in history. “Some large corporations pay zero year after year. It is therefore not surprising that we collect less corporate tax revenue than all but one of the other OECD nations,” Neal said during opening statements.
Similarly, Jason Furman, an economic policy professor in the Harvard Kennedy School and Department of Economics at Harvard University, told lawmakers during the hearing that the low levels of corporate tax revenue are a major reason why overall federal revenue is also low. Additionally, Furman told lawmakers that there is no evidence that the TCJA has made a “substantial contribution to investment or longer-term economic growth.”
However, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum, testified that corporate tax receipts were falling before the TCJA ever took effect. He credited the TCJA’s corporate tax cut for essentially ceasing corporate inversions. A corporate inversion, in very general terms, is a process in which U.S.-based companies relocate operations outside of the country to reduce their tax burden.
“After years of having five to six prominent companies annually depart the United States, inversions have simply stopped,” Holtz-Eakin testified. “Multinationals are bringing operations back to the United States, and many acquisitions of U.S. businesses now are made by U.S. firms, rather than foreign buyers,” he added.
Further, Holtz-Eakin issued a reminder that “everyone bears the burden” of corporate income taxes. “Corporations are not walled off from the broader economy, and neither are the taxes imposed on corporate income. Taxes on corporations fall on stockholders, employees, and consumers alike.”
The Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT), Congress’s nonpartisan scorekeeper, detailed in its February 10 report several contributing variables in understanding the corporate income tax equation and its relation to federal revenue. Generally, a corporation’s income tax liability is determined by applying a 21-percent rate to its taxable income.
As the JCT notes in its report, prior to the TCJA, the corporate income tax involved a four-step graduated tax rate schedule, with a top corporate tax rate of 35 percent on taxable income in excess of $10 million. The corporate income tax also included “an alternative minimum tax (AMT) that was payable (in addition to all other tax liabilities) to the extent that it exceeded the corporation’s regular income tax liability.” However, the TCJA eliminated the graduated corporate rate structure and repealed the corporate AMT, effective in 2018.
More Hearings Expected
While this particular hearing convened by Democrats was generally seen on Capitol Hill to serve more of a messaging purpose rather than legislative purpose, more TCJA-related hearings are expected this year. “We’re going to be doing a series of hearings on the [GOP] tax bill,” Neal told the press after the hearing. “People frequently pay a lot of attention to the spending side, and we are saying that there is also a revenue question here.”