The CBS News show 60 Minutes usually can be counted on for hard news about controversial subjects but a recent story about corporate income tax rates in the US showed how even a once great investigative news show can present a story so lopsided one would think it was repeating a press release.
Correspondent Lesley Stahl had a story about some large corporations who have moved their headquarters out of the country to dodge the US’s 35% tax rate on corporate income. She showed that some of the moves were a sham when she went to talk to the people in charge and they weren’t there.
Next came a short section where Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) complained about the companies that were dodging the taxes and questioned their patriotism.
Stahl then spent the remainder of the time giving big corporations an opportunity to whine and complain about the hardship of paying their fair share even though most don’t actually pay it and when they didn’t back in 2004, it didn’t help the economy.
Economist Martin Sullivan told Congress these patent and profit transfers are accounting tricks that have allowed companies to chip away at the 35 percent and save tens of billions of dollars. He says that from 2007 to 2009 these maneuvers helped lower Pfizer’s average tax rate to 17 percent; Merck to 12.5 percent, and GE to just 3.6 percent.
“It’s really remarkable, as I review the data, is the consistency with which you see this phenomenon. The taxes are going down, the profits are shifting offshore at an accelerated rate over the last few years,” Sullivan said.
So now these companies have profits accumulating overseas in places like Zug.
If they bring the money home, it’s taxed the full 35 percent. If they leave it overseas, the IRS can’t touch it. In other words, the tax law all but forces companies to keep their money out of the country, indefinitely.
“We leave the money over there. I create jobs overseas; I acquire companies overseas; I build plants overseas; and I badly want to bring that money back,” John Chambers told Stahl.
Chambers told Stahl Cisco has almost $40 billion overseas that could be brought back to the U.S.
The total amount of money U.S. companies have trapped overseas is $1.2 trillion. Chambers is advocating for a one-time tax break to allow them to bring that money home at a rate of, say five percent. That would, he says, stimulate the economy and create jobs.
“What is your downside for money that isn’t going to come back anyhow? I’d say your downside is zero,” he told Stahl.
But the Obama administration opposed this idea. When it was tried in 2005, the Treasury did rake in billions of dollars, though very few jobs were created.
A look at the world’s new corporate tax havens
John Chambers of Cisco also complains “All we’re asking is: Give us a level playing field. Get us close.”
Of course Chambers doesn’t say that Cisco and others who have operations in Europe don’t have to pay health insurance for workers – the European Union has universal health care and his fellow businessmen fought tooth and nail against the US health care reform efforts that then led to a much watered down “Affordable Healthcare Act”. Also as noted briefly we did try a one time tax reduction and it failed to generate jobs.
The story Lesley Stahl did the other night was about as bad for the middle class as the long wet kiss the entertainment division does with the show “Undercover Boss”.
Sure corporations should have a chance to lower their overall tax rate but it needs to be done with a fair intent – not as a dodge. Average Americans have been though the legal system for less.
I wouldn’t be opposed to a lower tax rate but that then must be balanced with a closing of all the loopholes. Fair is fair.