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Republican House Majority Eric Cantor’s memo to his caucus laying out a new “jobs agenda” includes a tax break that would allow any “small business” to deduct 20 percent of its income for tax purposes. This idea is not new but was actually part of the House GOP’s proposal put forth during the debate over the economic recovery act in early 2009.
Here’s what CTJ said about this part of the House GOP plan in January 2009:
Provisions in the House GOP Plan to Help “Small Business”
The Republican plan proposes to allow a “small business” to take a tax deduction of 20 percent of its pretax income, whether the small business is a corporation or a sole proprietor. The plan defines a “small business” as one with 500 or fewer employees. It makes no distinction based on income. A “small business” making $100 million would get to deduct $20 million of its income right off the top. (Apparently, a company with slightly more than 500 employees would have an incentive to lay off staff to qualify for the tax break!)
The Republican leadership notes that “small businesses can pay up to 35% of their income in taxes to the federal government.” But for a sole proprietor to be in the 35% income tax bracket, she would need taxable income (after deducting all expenses) in excess of $372,950. And because of the graduated tax brackets, her effective rate would be much less. For a corporation to be in a 35% tax bracket, taxable income must exceed $10 million. The architects of this proposal have an expansive definition of the word “small” to say the very least.
The plan description also states that the United States corporate tax rate ranks the 29th highest (out of 30) among the major economies of the world. Corporations currently pay federal income taxes at a statutory rate of 35 percent. But the effective rate paid by corporations (the percentage of income paid in taxes after taking into account the deductions and credits and other breaks that lower their tax liability) is far lower than 35 percent. Comparing corporate taxes as a share of gross domestic product (as a share of the overall economy), the United States actually ranks low compared to other developed nations.
It’s also worth pointing out that a 20% deduction unnecessarily complicates the tax code. Congress could simply amend code sections that are already in the law (like the corporate or individual tax rates). Anti-tax lawmakers may be afraid that a simple corporate income tax rate cut might not go over too well with a public that believes large corporations got us into the current economic downturn.
Last, but not least, a business tax cut is just about the least effective stimulus measure Congress could possibly enact. The tax cuts put more money in the hands of business. But there is very little correlation between a corporation’s cash position and its plans for investment—whether expanding capacity or hiring new employees. Businesses invest in expansion when they believe there will be an increase in the demand for the goods and services they provide. If they don’t anticipate a sales increase, they won’t expand no matter how many tax breaks the federal government gives them.
Read CTJ’s full report on the 2009 House GOP economic plan here.