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Corporate Tax Reform: Issues for Congress

CRS report via FAS – Corporate Tax Reform: Issues for Congress, Jane G. Gravelle, Senior Specialist in Economic Policy. September 22, 2017.

“Interest in corporate tax reform that lowers the rate and broadens the base has developed in the past several years. Some discussions by economists in opinion pieces have suggested there is an urgent need to lower the corporate tax rate, but not necessarily to broaden the tax base, an approach that presents some difficulties given current budget pressures.Others see the corporate tax as a potential source of revenue.Arguments for lowering the corporate tax rate include the traditional concerns about economic distortions arising from the corporate tax and newer concerns arising from the increasingly global nature of the economy. Some claims have been made that lowering the corporate tax rate would raise revenue because of the behavioral responses, an effect that is linked to an open economy. Although the corporate tax has generally been viewed as contributing to a more progressive tax system because the burden falls on capital income and thus on higher-income individuals, claims have also been made that the burden falls not on owners of capital, but on labor income — an effect also linked to an open economy. The analysis in this report suggests that many of the concerns expressed about the corporate tax are not supported by empirical evidence. Claims that behavioral responses could cause revenues to rise if rates were cut do not hold up on either a theoretical or an empirical basis. Studies that purport to show a revenue-maximizing corporate tax rate of 30% (a rate lower than the current statutory tax rate) contain econometric errors that lead to biased and inconsistent results; when those problems are corrected the results disappear. Cross-country studies to provide direct evidence showing that the burden of the corporate tax actually falls on labor yield unreasonable results and prove to suffer from econometric flaws that also lead to a disappearance of the results when corrected, in those cases where data were obtained and the results replicated. Many studies that have been cited are not relevant to the United States because they reflect wage bargaining approaches and unions have virtually disappeared from the private sector in the United States. Overall, the evidence suggests that the tax is largely borne by capital. Similarly, claims that high U.S. tax rates will create problems for the United States in a global economy suffer from a misrepresentation of the U.S. tax rate compared with other countries and are less important when capital is imperfectly mobile, as it appears to be…”

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