Ending Inversions and Investing in America
Hillary Clinton believes that getting incomes rising by creating good-paying jobs is the defining economic challenge of our time. Today, as part of her plan to create jobs and kick-start wage growth, Clinton is releasing a proposal to stop so-called “inversions” where companies leave the United States on paper to lower their taxes. She will use the proceeds of this plan to encourage and reward investment in good-paying jobs here in the United States.
Hillary believes that we need a broader conversation on reforming our business tax code, but we simply cannot wait to prevent inversions and related transactions that threaten to further erode our tax base as Republicans in Congress use gridlock to allow them to continue.
Congress should act immediately to prevent corporations from engaging in inversions, where businesses move their corporate residence abroad on paper in order to escape paying their fair share of taxes. Without immediate action, inversions and transactions like the recently announced Pfizer-Allergan deal – in which Pfizer is merging with Allergan, giving up its identity as a U.S. company, and becoming “Irish” for the purpose of lowering its tax bill – will continue to erode the U.S. tax base. These corporations benefit from access to the most talented workforce in the world, billions of dollars in public investment in basic research, and the robust American legal system, yet trade in their U.S. identity to avoid paying their fair share. Inversions and transactions like Pfizer’s could be stopped if the Republicans were not standing in the way of legislation to prevent them. It is time for Republicans in Congress to stop thwarting action, and stop using tax games as a method of tilting the tax code even further toward the largest multinational corporations.
Throughout this campaign, Hillary has said that our economy works best when businesses invest in America for the long term. She firmly believes businesses want a playing field that’s both fairer and more competitive, in which the biggest multinational corporations no longer get special advantages over smaller, domestic businesses. Ending inversions is a first step – a step that cannot wait. Hillary believes that we need to reform and simplify our business tax code to encourage and reward investments in growth, innovation, and jobs here in the United States, and she will be laying out further ways to do that in the months ahead.
- Restrict “inversions” and related transactions that let companies forego their U.S. identity to lower their taxes, through both Congressional and regulatory action. Clinton’s plan will call on Congress to prevent “inversions” and end transactions like the Pfizer-Allergan deal. This includes imposing a commonsense 50% threshold for foreign company shareholder ownership after a merger before an American company can give up its U.S. identity, and an “exit tax” to ensure multinational companies that change their identity pay a fair share of the U.S. taxes they owe on earnings stashed overseas. If Congress has not acted to address inversions and related loopholes, Hillary is also calling for Treasury to use its full legal authority to prevent inversions and restrict the tax loopholes they allow, including cracking down on “earnings stripping,” one of the key benefits of inversions.
- Use the proceeds to invest in long-term growth and jobs in the United States. Clinton’s plan will use the revenue from closing loopholes to help drive growth and job creation here in America. That means strengthening research and development; rewarding companies that bring good jobs to the United States; and expanding support for advanced manufacturing, small businesses, and startups. And while preventing inversions is a first, immediate step that cannot wait, Clinton believes in the need for broader changes in the business tax code and will discuss her approach over the course of the campaign.
PREVENT ‘INVERSIONS’ THAT ERODE THE TAX BASE AND DISADVANTAGE COMPANIES THAT PROUDLY LOCATE IN AND INVEST IN THE UNITED STATES
Inversions and related transactions let corporations avoid paying their fair share. In the past decade, nearly 50 companies have chosen to leave the United States for a foreign country on paper, saving billions of dollars in taxes through these so-called “inversions” and related transactions. For example, Pfizer’s recently announced expatriation could help it permanently avoid paying its fair share of taxes on as much as $70-$150 billion in foreign profits stashed offshore and even more easily shift profits made here to low-tax countries overseas. Inversions and related loopholes distort our tax code, erode the tax base, and undermine fair competition between multinationals and domestic companies:
- Inversions let corporations take advantage of loopholes to permanently avoid paying their fair share and erode the tax base – even as inverted companies benefit from the U.S. economy: Companies that invert move abroad on paper, but keep their headquarters and operations in the U.S. They still benefit from America’s talented workforce and legal system – as well as public investment in infrastructure and research. However, inversions erode the U.S. tax base by tens of billions of dollars. For example, inverted companies can take advantage of additional loopholes, like “earnings stripping,” to further shift income abroad and avoid U.S. taxes. And such loopholes can, in some cases, allow inverted companies to more easily access foreign earnings without paying their fair share of taxes. Domestic competitors are thereby disadvantaged, and all of us have to make up the shortfall in revenues.
- Domestic U.S. businesses are put at a competitive disadvantage by inversions: Unlike large multinational companies, small businesses and domestic companies located entirely in the United States cannot take advantage of international tax loopholes to lower the tax rates that they pay. As a result, inversions put smaller American businesses at a disadvantage.
- Inverting companies often already face low effective tax rates: Even though the U.S. has a 35% top statutory rate, loopholes and distortions mean that some of the largest U.S. multinationals that are pursuing inversions already often face low effective tax rates. That is true of Pfizer: Reuters reported that it pays a lower share of its profits in overall income taxes than other competing pharmaceutical companies, and the Wall Street Journal highlighted its low tax rate using reporting practices for other companies. One study found that effective tax rates for the largest U.S. multinationals were lower than effective tax rates for the largest E.U. multinationals in eight of the ten years from 2001-2010. Clinton will prevent inversions and related transactions driven by tax planning to lower corporate tax bills. Mergers should be carried out for business reasons, not to take advantage of tax loopholes and avoid paying a company’s fair share of taxes. We need to act now to prevent the continued erosion of the tax base, or it will be further and further reduced by the time we reach a solution on broader reform. Clinton’s plan is designed to prevent transactions motivated by tax planning that allow American businesses to avoid paying their fair share. Clinton’s plan would bar abusive inversions by raising the threshold for the size of a foreign merger partner to at least 50% of the combined company. This commonsense approach would mean that an American company could no longer give up its U.S. identity by finding a smaller merger partner overseas. This would be an important step forward, but alone is not sufficient. In the absence of additional measures, corporations could still game the 50% threshold or barely meet it, and the tax system would continue to favor corporations that move their residence abroad through foreign takeovers. In a comprehensive approach to ending inversions and related transactions, Clinton’s plan also includes two measures – an “exit tax” on unrepatriated profits and ending “earnings stripping” – that would reduce some of the significant tax advantages of expatriating. And, if Congress has not acted, she would ask her Treasury Department to pursue any other measures to prevent or restrict inversions and related tax planning within its legal authority. In combination, these measures would help ensure that, when a U.S. corporation merges with a foreign corporation and moves its residence, the transaction is being done for good business reasons and not to game the tax system:
- Entirely block inversions that are likely to be the most abusive through a 50% merger threshold: Today, a company can give up its U.S. identity to avoid taxes through a merger with a smaller foreign company where only a small stake of ownership – one-fifth of the combined company – goes to the foreign company’s shareholders. This is indefensible. Clinton’s plan would require that no U.S. company could pretend to be a foreign company to avoid paying U.S. taxes unless its merger partner is the same size or larger. And she would call for Congress to make this restriction retroactive to May 2014, following proposals introduced by Democrats in Congress and President Obama’s Treasury Department. In the past, Republican and Democratic presidents have signed or proposed retroactive legislation applying to inversions and other loopholes.
- Ensure that companies leaving the U.S. pay an “exit tax” on what they owe on their overseas earnings: In addition to barring inversions between a U.S. company and a smaller foreign company, Clinton would call on Congress to impose an “exit tax” on the untaxed overseas earnings of multinational companies that leave the U.S. to avoid the taxes they owe on these earnings. Under the current system, U.S. companies can defer taxes on their overseas earnings until they bring the money back to the U.S. As a result, U.S. corporations hold trillions of dollars overseas, deferring the U.S. taxes that they owe. Companies that shift their residence abroad often have an advantage in using tax planning to access earnings stashed overseas without paying the taxes that are supposed to be paid when foreign earnings are accessed. Clinton believes that if a company does give up its U.S. identity, it should pay taxes on the unrepatriated profits that it made as a U.S. company, benefiting from U.S. infrastructure, our investments in human capital, and the efforts that the government makes on behalf of U.S. corporations – from basic research to enforcing trade treaties. When an American citizen renounces their citizenship, there are rules intended to make sure they pay the taxes that they owe. The same should be true for corporations’ unrepatriated offshore earnings.
- Limit the ability of multinationals to engage in “earnings stripping:” Multinational corporations use a practice called “earnings stripping” to shift profits from the United States to countries with lower tax rates, and to maximize high deductions in the United States. This loophole reduces the taxes they pay in the U.S. – putting them at an advantage over domestic and smaller competitors, and leaving others to pick up the burden. Earnings stripping is much easier for a foreign-based multinational to do. For instance, a foreign-based multinational can load up a U.S. subsidiary with debt through loans from one part of the company to another and claim a large deduction for the interest here in the United States – all while sending the interest income abroad to a country with low tax rates. This is one of the main benefits of inversions and related transactions, and potentially a benefit of the Pfizer-Allergan deal – making it easier to strip profits out of the United States. Ending the practice of earnings stripping would close a loophole that costs taxpayers as much as $60 billion over 10 years.
- If Congress does not act, ask the Treasury Department to use its full legal authority to crack down on inversions and related transactions, including by restricting earnings stripping. For more than a year, Clinton, President Obama, and Democrats have called on Congress to take action. It would be far better if Congress were to act itself. However, if Congress does not do so, Clinton would ask her Treasury Department to use its full legal authority to restrict earnings stripping. She would also ask her Treasury Department to pursue any other measures within its legal authority to end related tax planning, such as further cracking down on ways that corporations, after leaving the United States, game the system to gain access to their unrepatriated earnings without paying a fair share of the taxes they owe.
- Republicans are standing in the way of action. For more than a year, with the most recent rise of inversions, President Obama and Democrats in Congress have put forward multiple proposals to address inversions. Republicans in Congress, and most of the Republican candidates, have blocked these efforts or done nothing to support immediately preventing inversions. Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail have instead pushed for deficit increasing tax cuts tilted toward the wealthiest and argued that companies have a legal obligation to their shareholders to minimize their tax burden – without making any effort to change the laws that lead to these loopholes in the first place.
Acting to prevent inversions and related loopholes would raise at least $80 billion over the next decade. Clinton’s plan will use the proceeds from closing these loopholes to provide tax relief for bringing jobs back to America and supporting research, manufacturing, and small businesses. Clinton also believes that preventing inversions is only a first, immediate step that we need to protect the tax base, and will have more to say on her vision for business tax reform.
- Reward research, innovation, and locating the good jobs of the future here in the U.S.: Clinton believes that America must compete to be the world leader in research and innovation, and the high-skilled, high-paying jobs of the future. Her plan will use the tax code to reward innovation and research at companies large and small, established and new. Over the coming weeks and months, Clinton will lay out her vision for public investment in basic R&D, and driving research in the private sector. America’s future depends on leading the world in innovation, and we need rising productivity to drive higher wages for workers over the long-run.
- Offer incentives to create good-paying jobs and revitalize communities here in the U.S.: Clinton will offer incentives to reinvest and revitalize communities here in the U.S., and create good-paying, high-skilled jobs. One example of the type of proposals Clinton would offer is a plan she released this week to offer a “Manufacturing Renaissance Tax Credit.” This proposal would make hard-hit communities facing a “downward spiral” of mass layoffs and closing plants eligible for a package of relief to encourage new capital and new investment and jobs, and refurbishing and repurposing facilities. She would make a version of this proposal available in hard-hit coal communities as well. And, she will have more to say on incentives to revitalize hard-hit communities and create good jobs.
- Reward companies that bring jobs back and invest in the U.S. – and further crack down on shifting earnings and jobs overseas. Clinton will offer new proposals to provide support for companies that move jobs and production back to the U.S. from abroad. And, she will go further than her proposals on inversions and related transactions to crack down on loopholes that let corporations shift earnings and jobs overseas.
- Close oil and gas loopholes and invest in clean energy: Already during this campaign, Clinton put forward a plan to make America a clean-energy superpower by installing half a million solar panels by the end of her first term, and by generating enough renewable energy to power every home in America within ten years. And her plan would be paid for by closing tax loopholes for oil and gas companies.
- Simplify taxes for millions of small businesses – and allow small businesses to write off investments: Today, the smallest firms spend 20 times as much in money and hours filling out their taxes compared to their larger competitors. Over the coming weeks and months, Clinton will offer new plans to simplify tax filing for millions of small businesses and allow small businesses to immediately deduct expenses, letting them expand their investments, hiring, and growth.