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On Wednesday, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) introduced a bill (H.R. 1834) to provide a tax holiday for corporations that repatriate offshore profits, similar to the widely panned repatriation holiday enacted in 2004. The holiday is essentially a temporary tax exemption for corporate offshore profits, which some corporate leaders see as a second best alternative to a permanent exemption. (See related story.)

Brady’s bill, like the 2004 measure, would reduce the federal corporate income tax rate on repatriated offshore profits from 35 percent to a token 5.25 percent.

Most companies with offshore profits would not actually have to pay 35 percent even under current law if they repatriated them, because they receive a credit for any foreign taxes that they have already paid. The final section of CTJ’s recent report explains that the repatriation holiday therefore provides the greatest benefits to those corporations that shift their profits to countries with no corporate income tax (tax havens).

A recent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities summarizes the various studies concluding that profits repatriated under the 2004 measure largely went to shareholders in the form of increased dividends or stock buybacks rather than job creation.

Rehashed Trickle-Down Economics

Some business leaders say that increased dividends is itself a positive result because it means increased income in the U.S.

The problem is that this tax cut comes at a huge cost and is funneled to wealthy shareholders. Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation recently found that a repeat of the 2004 repatriation holiday would cost over $78 billion over the course of a decade.  In other words, the argument in favor of a repatriation holiday that boosts dividends is simply a rehash of trickle-down economics.

Encouraging Companies to Shift More Profits and Jobs Offshore

But even if Congress wanted to encourage corporations to repatriate their offshore profits (regardless of what those profits are used for) the repatriation holiday fails at that goal in the long-run.

Enacting a second repatriation holiday will send a signal that Congress is willing to call off almost the entire corporate income tax on offshore profits every few years. This would actually encourage companies to shift even more profits offshore to countries where they are not taxed very much (tax havens) and then simply wait for the next repatriation holiday.  

Democrats Supporting Repatriation Holiday Have Long History of Opposing Fair and Responsible Taxes

Brady’s bill has five co-sponsors, and the three Democrats among them are likely to receive the most attention.

One is Jared Polis (D-CO) who famously drafted and circulated a letter in 2009 that was signed by several freshmen House Democrats who opposed the surcharge that the Democratic caucus was considering to help finance health care reform.

The letter, which included factual inaccuracies, argued that higher taxes on the rich hurt small businesses. The Democrats changed their surcharge so that it would only affect millionaires, as a result of this letter.

The other two Democratic co-sponsors are Jim Cooper (D-TN) and Jim Matheson (D-UT). Both signed a letter last year calling for the extension of the Bush tax cuts even for the richest taxpayers. Both also signed a letter calling specifically for the extension of the special low rate of 15 percent on capital gains and dividends, perhaps the most indefensible provision among the Bush tax cuts.