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With very few days left to legislate before the election, House Republicans are rushing through the Jobs for America Act, which includes several provisions to curb regulations as well as a grab bag of over $520 billion in tax breaks for businesses over the next decade. These tax cuts will do more to expand the deficit than expand employment.
The House already approved each of these tax breaks as separate pieces of legislation that went nowhere in the Senate. The first three of the breaks described below are usually temporarily extended as part of the “tax extenders” legislation that Congress usually enacts every couple of years. Making these breaks permanent, as this House bill would do, would destroy any hope that lawmakers will ever come to their senses and end this wasteful practice.
The five important tax provisions of the Jobs for America Act are as follows:
Make Permanent Bonus Depreciation – Bonus depreciation is a significant expansion of existing breaks for business investment. The Congressional Research Service’s (CRS) review of the research on bonus depreciation found that it does not affect the overwhelming majority of firms’ investment decisions. It cites CBO research concluding that bonus depreciation increases economic output by $0.20 to $1.00 for every dollar given up, while increased unemployment benefits increase economic output by $0.70 to $1.90 for every dollar given up. This suggests that throwing $269 billion more in bonus depreciation breaks at businesses over the next decade would be an enormous boondoggle.
Companies are allowed to deduct from their taxable income the expenses of running the business, so that what’s taxed is net profit. Businesses can also deduct the costs of purchases of machinery, software, buildings and so forth, but since these capital investments don’t lose value right away, these deductions are taken over time. In other words, capital expenses (expenditures to acquire assets that generate income over a long period of time) usually must be deducted over a number of years to reflect their ongoing usefulness.
Bonus depreciation is a temporary expansion of the existing breaks that allow businesses to deduct these costs more quickly than is warranted by the equipment’s loss of value or any other economic rationale. Unfortunately, Congress does not seem to understand that business people make decisions about investing and expanding their operations based on whether or not there are customers who want to buy whatever product or service they provide.
Make Permanent Section 179 Small Business Expensing – Like bonus depreciation, section 179 is a depreciation break, meaning it allows firms to deduct the costs of investment in equipment more quickly than they can under current law. As with bonus depreciation, a systematic review of section 179 by the CRS has found the tax break to be ineffective at promoting growth. Making it permanent would cost $73 billion over the next decade.
Section 179 allows firms to deduct the entire cost of a capital purchase (to “expense” the cost of a capital purchase) up to a limit. The provision in this bill would allow expensing of up to $500,000 of purchases of certain capital investments (generally, equipment but not land or buildings). The deduction is reduced a dollar for each dollar of capital purchases exceeding $2 million, and the total amount expensed cannot exceed the business income of the taxpayer. This means that this break is targeted to companies smaller than, say, General Electric, even if the beneficiaries are not exactly what most Americans think of as “small businesses.”
Make Permanent the Research Credit – The research credit is a wasteful tax break that is used primarily to subsidize activities that would have been carried out by companies even without any tax incentive. One of many problems is that accounting firms are helping companies obtain the credit to subsidize redesigning food packaging and other activities that most Americans would see no reason to subsidize. A CTJ report explains why Congress should either substantially reform the research credit or simply let it stay expired. Making the research credit permanent would cost $156 billion over the next decade.
Repeal of the Medical Device Tax – Enacted as part of healthcare reform, the medical device tax raises a critically needed $26 billion over the next ten years to help pay for the costs of expanding healthcare to millions of Americans. While some medical device companies complain that the tax will harm them, these hyperbolic claims ignore the fact that the healthcare expansion that is partly funded by this tax will massively expand the market for their products.
Ban States From Taxing Internet Access – While the argument for restricting state and local governments from placing any tax on internet access was weak back in 1998, it makes zero sense in 2014 to continue to coddle the goliath internet companies by allowing them to escape the kinds of taxes that states impose on other services. This legislation is actually worse than previous extensions of this policy in that it would disallow the seven states with grandfathered taxes on internet access from continuing them, resulting in an annual loss of over $500 million in revenues for those states.