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Hatch Touts Business Tax Reform at Tax Policy Center
WASHINGTON – Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) today addressed the Brookings Institution’s Tax Policy Center at a discussion titled, “The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: The New Business Tax Landscape.” Hatch highlighted how business reforms in new tax law will benefit U.S. workers and make America more globally competitive.
On increasing employee benefits: “Over the last several weeks, we’ve seen a stream of businesses come forward to announce that they were awarding bonuses, raising wages, or boosting 401(k) contributions for their employees. According to some estimates, more than 340 companies have issued these types of statements, reaching a total of about 3.5 million workers.”
On boosting middle-class wealth: “[I]n just the last 20 years or so, we’ve seen a massive expansion of pension and retirement assets, much of which are invested in corporate stocks...In fact, the success of our nation’s retirement system has been the largest accumulator of middle-class wealth in history. And, the numbers here are astounding…[Pension] assets on the balance sheet of households and nonprofit organizations have increased from close to $8 trillion toward the end of 1997 to almost $23 trillion toward the end of last year, an increase of $15 trillion, or nearly 188 percent in twenty years.”
On preventing jobs from going overseas: “Between a reduced corporate rate, a transition to a territorial system, and the BEAT, we have created a system that will help prevent inversions, earnings stripping, and other forms of base erosion and keep investments in the United States from being shipped overseas…Just yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that, under the new law, a significant number of companies that inverted over the last few years will see their taxes go up, at least slightly. This is what it means to be competitive with the rest of the world.”
Hatch’s full remarks can be found below:
Thank you for that kind introduction and for having me here today.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to be here at the Tax Policy Center. But, I do have to say that I was a bit surprised to get this invitation. After all, it’s no secret that the good people here at TPC and I don’t always see eye-to-eye on tax policy. And, on a few occasions during the recent tax reform debate, those disagreements became pretty well-known.
Still, at the end of the day, I think TPC actually ended up helping us pass our tax reform bill. While I may not have always agreed with all of the center’s assessments of our legislation, I very much appreciated the efforts made by some of the leaders here at TPC to correct the record on some of the more outlandish attacks that were thrown our way. Make no mistake, the views of TPC carry quite a bit of weight in this town.
Of course, I may just be saying all of this because, in a few short months, I’ll be looking for a new job. You should all take that into account when you decide how to take my compliments.
But really, even if I may have different views than some of the folks at TPC from time to time, I very much appreciate and respect the work that goes on here. And, this morning, I am grateful for the gracious invitation to come here and talk about the impact of tax reform, particularly on the business climate here in the United States.
I think the story that I’m here to tell is a good one.
But, before we talk about the reforms we made to the business tax system, let me spend just a few moments discussing the changes we made on the individual side, because that, in my view, is another good story.
In the individual income tax system, the new tax law lowered rates across the board, with taxpayers in the middle class getting the largest proportional benefit of the tax cuts. That’s something people tend to overlook when they talk about the new law. Opponents tend to only talk about the total dollars in any one given tax cohort. They rarely talk about system-wide distribution of burden, which shows some pretty favorable benefits for middle-class taxpayers.
According to JCT, as a percentage of a taxpayer’s income, the largest tax cuts go to those in the middle- and lower-income brackets. Post-reform, those at the high-end of the income spectrum will see their share of the tax burden go up slightly.
One of the main goals in drafting our tax reform legislation was to provide middle-class tax relief. And, by lowering rates and increasing the standard deduction and the child tax credit, we were able to meet that important goal.
In addition, the new law simplified the tax code for tens of millions of American families. By nearly doubling the standard deduction, we ensured that the vast majority or U.S. taxpayers – more than nine in 10 – will be able to file a simple return without going through the previous maze of deductions and credits.
That’s an important detail that I hope will not be overlooked as people continue to evaluate the impact of the new statute. Americans pay billions of dollars every year to comply with the tax code and file their returns. Tax reform will reduce those costs and help those families.
Now, let’s move to the business tax system, which is the focus of today’s event.
As you all know, our new tax reform law includes a number of significant reforms to the business tax system, reforms that are already in effect and are paying big dividends for American businesses and their employees.
Chief among the many business tax reforms we enacted is the reduction of the corporate tax rate from 35 percent – which was the highest in the industrialized world – down to 21 percent, which puts us roughly on par with most of our international trading partners.
To paraphrase my friend Joe Biden, this is a Big FETCHING Deal
Prior to the passage of our tax bill, members from both parties worked for years to accomplish this important goal.
President Obama outlined a tax plan that included a significant rate reduction for many corporate businesses. President Clinton, in 2016, was quoted as saying the corporate rate should come down, even as his wife’s campaign was calling for the rate to go up. Former Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus openly supported reducing the corporate rate. The current Senate Minority Leader and the Ranking Member of the Finance Committee both, in the relatively recent past, advocated for bringing down the corporate tax rate.
I know I’m picking on the Democrats right now, but I mention these names – and there are many, many others – to demonstrate that the idea to reduce our corporate tax rate didn’t just originate in some Republican fever dream. It was a key objective shared by Republicans and Democrats alike. We’ve got bipartisan Finance Committee Working Group Reports that show that such is the case.
In fact, prior to last year, there were very few people outside a Bernie Sanders rally who would honestly argue that our corporate tax rate should not come down. Of course, when it came time to produce and pass a tax reform bill, some of my colleagues found religion, so to speak, in order to decry tax cuts for corporations in our legislation and argue that American businesses and job creators do not pay their fair share of taxes. Others argued that reducing the corporate rate would only benefit corporations themselves, their rich CEOs, and their wealthy shareholders.
Yet, I think everyone here would likely acknowledge the problems with that line of thinking. Plans to reduce the corporate rate were never about catering to greedy corporations or the decadent rich. As with the changes to the individual tax system, corporate tax reform has always been about helping middle-class workers and their families.
That was true when Democrats supported the idea in the past. And, it was true at the end of last year as Republicans worked to make that idea a reality.
Allow me to demonstrate why that is the case.
According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, 25 percent of the corporate tax is borne by workers. Other economists place that number much higher – as high as 75 percent.
Moreover, in just the last 20 years or so, we’ve seen a massive expansion of pension and retirement assets, much of which are invested in corporate stocks. Now, corporate profits have climbed steadily over that period, but with that, the retirement plans of middle-class America have expanded as well. In fact, the success of our nation’s retirement system has been the largest accumulator of middle-class wealth in history.
And, the numbers here are astounding.
According to Flow of Funds data compiled by the Federal Reserve, pension assets on the balance sheet of households and nonprofit organizations have increased from close to $8 trillion toward the end of 1997 to almost $23 trillion toward the end of last year. That’s an increase of $15 trillion, or nearly 188 percent in twenty years.
In the spring of 2016, a fellow here, that is, from the Tax Policy Center, came before the Finance Committee and testified that about 37 percent of corporate stock ownership was held in retirement plan accounts. That means more than one out of every three dollars currently invested in the stock market is held by a pension or retirement plan. And, what’s more, those numbers have been confirmed by the folks at JCT. Making the pension and retirement owner category the largest share of overall stock ownership.
No matter how you slice it, by reducing the corporate tax rates, we have lowered the tax burden and increased the potential for generating wealth for the American middle class.
Like I said: It’s a significant shift. And, it isn’t just a rosy scenario we’ve painted to sell a tax bill. The middle class’s stake in corporate tax reform has been demonstrated in spades in the days since the reform bill became law.
Over the last several weeks, we’ve seen a stream of businesses come forward to announce that they were awarding bonuses, raising wages, or boosting 401(k) contributions for their employees.
According to some estimates, more than 340 companies have issued these types of statements, reaching a total of about 3.5 million workers.
I won’t go through the whole list. But, let’s highlight a few.
Last week, U-Haul announced that all of its full-time employees would be getting $1,200 in bonuses, with part-time employees getting $500. All told, more than 28,000 U-Haul employees will be receiving bonuses, providing them with around $23 million in benefits.
The very same day, Tyson Foods announced that 100,000 full- and part-time employees would be getting bonuses of $1,000 and $500.
Then, last month, Walt Disney Company, announced that, as a result of the new tax law, it would be issuing $1000 cash bonuses for 125,000 employees, or $125 million in total, as well as another $50 million investment in employee education programs.
And it doesn’t end there. As just one more example, Waste Management is providing $2,000 bonuses to every North American employee not on a bonus or sales incentive plan; which specifically includes all hourly and other employees. That’s $2,000 to approximately 34,000 middle-class employees.
Some of the naysayers out there – and there are few, if you’d believe it – have claimed that these bonuses and benefits are not significant. I say, tell that to the workers and families on the receiving end of these new benefits.
For a middle-class family, $1,000 is three or four car payments, a couple months’ worth of groceries, or a rent or mortgage payment.
And, as the economy continues to expand, American workers will continue to benefit, as will the companies that employ them. In the coming months and years we’re likely to see more investment and jobs created here at home, which means better paychecks and more opportunities for our nation’s families.
While all of this news has been getting the attention, the international business tax reforms we put in place have, in some respects, flown under the radar. Don’t get me wrong, people have known they were there, but they’re just now starting to get the attention they deserve.
The new tax law converted the U.S. tax system away from a worldwide system and toward a territorial one. By itself, this shift would be a major step toward modernizing our tax system and encouraging more expansion and investment in the U.S.
Of course, this isn’t the only international tax reform we put into place. We also established measures to prevent the erosion of our tax base in order to make sure invested capital and our tax base remain here at home instead of being shipped overseas from a U.S. company to a foreign entity.
The Base Erosion and Anti-Abuse Tax, or BEAT, places limits on the extent to which U.S. companies can deduct interest and royalty payments to parent companies offshore. The provision was drafted with an eye toward preventing the type of transactions that were all too common in the years before the recent tax reform effort. For years, we saw a wave of inversions as American companies opted to move their legal headquarters offshore in order to, among other things, escape our obnoxiously high corporate tax rate and our worldwide tax system.
The clincher, in many cases, was the fact that our system would allow a foreign parent company to engage in earnings stripping and other forms of tax avoidance.
Both parties saw this as a problem, and with our new law, we were able to effectively address it without draconian regulations or punitive governing rules. Between a reduced corporate rate, a transition to a territorial system, and the BEAT, we have created a system that will help prevent inversions, earnings stripping, and other forms of base erosion to keep investments in the United States from being shipped overseas.
We’re getting good signs on the effectiveness of this approach as well.
Just yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that, under the new law, a significant number of companies that inverted over the last few years will see their taxes go up, at least slightly.
This is what it means to be competitive with the rest of the world. This is what it means to operate in the 21st century.
It is a truly a shame that we allowed our country to become a less desirable place to do business than so many of our trading partners.
Fortunately, our effort to fix this problem took some big steps forward with passage of our tax reform bill.
Of course, none of this will matter if it’s not all properly implemented. That’s why we will keep pressure on the administration to do things properly and as Congress intended.
I’m going to keep working to ensure that everyone recognizes and respects Congress’ role in this process. Where things are potentially unclear in the law, Congress should be the one to determine and explain what was intended. I will continue to pursue facilitating this type of consistent interaction as things move forward.
There are other things to discuss, like the important role of pass-through businesses, for which we created a new deduction to allow smaller businesses that are taxed at the owner level to better compete with those in larger corporations. This provision is key and deserves more discussion.
However, for now, let me just say that I appreciate all the work done by TPC and others here today. I look forward to working and, in some cases, debating these issues with all of you going forward.
With that, I want to thank everyone for being here today. I also want to once again thank the Tax Policy Center for inviting me to speak.
Thank you. God bless you all.
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