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There is worse. To avoid the 35 per cent US corporate tax rate that would have to be paid if those profits were repatriated, the companies leave those profits — $2.6 trillion worth — overseas in the hope that some day they can be brought home without paying such a high entry fee. Meanwhile, these corporations can invest those funds free of US tax almost anywhere in the world except in America. If the overseas cash piles could be repatriated at a reasonable rate the money would either be dispersed as dividends, increasing the spending power of shareholders, or invested in facilities in the United States via mergers or new construction.

Finally, the corporate tax rate is not some abstraction having little to do with the lives of ordinary Americans. These taxes are a cost of business. There is considerable debate about their incidence — on whom they fall. But we do know that some portion of that cost must be recouped in the prices charged consumers for the products of these corporations. And some portion reduces the corporation’s ability to pay higher wages: the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based think tank, estimates that for every 1 percent increase in the corporate tax rate, wages decrease by 1 percent.

The case for an overhaul, a description Robert Rich, a leading expert in this field, has suggested to me is more accurate, because more inclusive, than “reform”, is so compelling that it was once considered to be low-hanging fruit, there for the plucking by President Trump. Those optimists, innocent in the ways of Washington, forgot two things. First, we live in a time of what Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Charles Krauthammer calls hyperpartisanship, with both parties more eager to deny the opposition a victory than to score one themselves. Second, even before the “Never Trump” opposition took shape, changing the tax code proved beyond the grasp of our political class. The last president to pull this off was Ronald Reagan, and that was more than 30 years ago.

Part of the difficulty stems from the insistence by what are called deficit hawks that any tax overhaul be revenue-neutral — not add to a deficit they already consider dangerously high. During the presidential campaign Trump signed on to the hawks’ restriction, and went even further by promising that in addition to not adding to the deficit he would, first, increase military spending, second, preserve all existing entitlements such as social security and Medicaid, and eventually, third, eliminate the national debt. That was for campaigning: now comes governing. So as Trump reaches for what is the rather high-hanging fruit of tax overhaul he has to offset any losses due to rate reductions by raising new revenue. He can do that by a combination of raising some taxes and broadening the base to which the lower rates are to be applied, “broadening” being a euphemism for taking away special tax advantages now enjoyed by recipients who employ armies of lobbyists specifically charged with preserving their privileges.

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