President Biden’s ambitious plan to increase corporate taxes does more than just reverse much of the overhaul pushed through by his predecessor. It also offers a profoundly different vision of how to make the United States more competitive and how to foot the bill.
When President Donald J. Trump and a Republican Congress rewrote the tax code in 2017, most of the benefits went to the wealthiest Americans, with lower rates on businesses and on profits from investments. The guiding principle, proponents argued, was that cutting taxes on corporations and investors would encourage businesses to expand, creating more jobs and generating more wealth for everyone.
By contrast, the animating idea behind the tax plan put forward by the Biden administration on Wednesday is that the best way to increase America’s competitiveness and foster economic growth is to raise corporate taxes to finance huge investments in transportation, broadband, utilities and more.
The Business Roundtable, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers all welcomed the idea of pumping money into repairing and building the nation’s infrastructure, but recoiled at raising corporate taxes to do so.
said in a statement.
The biggest and most eye-catching proposal is to trim the sizable reduction in the corporate tax rate enacted under Mr. Trump. In 2017, Republicans shrank the rate to 21 percent from 35 percent. Mr. Biden wants to nudge the rate part of the way back — to 28 percent.
The increase will “ensure that corporations pay their fair share of taxes,” and fund critical investments “to maintain the competitiveness of the United States and grow the economy,” the White House stated in outlining the plan.
The other provisions are primarily intended to ensure that multinational corporations cannot avoid taxes on profits generated overseas. The hope is that this will reduce the temptation to set up operations or offices in foreign tax havens.
Wall Street has been wary of possible tax increases since the presidential election and has hoped that gridlock in Washington would moderate Mr. Biden’s agenda. On Wednesday, a spokesman for JPMorgan Chase said the bank’s chief executive, Jamie Dimon, believed that “the corporate tax rate for companies in the U.S. has to be competitive globally, which it is now.”
Supporters countered that the changes would do much more to promote growth and go a long way in curbing excesses of the 2017 tax legislation. Democrats have argued that the low-tax approach has failed to deliver broad economic gains, with only those at the very top benefiting. Targeted government spending on workers, students and infrastructure, they argue, would offer much more bang for the buck. What’s more, businesses base their decisions on a range of factors besides tax rates.
Even economists favoring low rates on business acknowledge that the 2017 tax cuts did not produce much of an increase in investment. Gross domestic product grew at a rate of 2.4 percent in the two years leading up to the law and 2.4 percent in the two years after it passed.
“There’s essentially no evidence that the tax change boosted investment,” said William Gale, co-director of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. He argued that investment went up in 2018 only because oil prices rose. And while the tax law favored investments in equipment and structures, it turned out that the biggest investments were not in those areas but in intellectual capital.