President Joe Biden made a key concession on corporate taxes during a meeting this week with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), the top Republican negotiator on a legislative package aimed at overhauling national infrastructure.
Instead of raising the corporate tax to 28%, from its current 21%, to pay for new infrastructure projects, Biden proposed doing so by instituting a minimum corporate rate of 15% to address the fact that many of the largest corporations in America are able to avoid paying federal corporate income taxes entirely.
The news, first reported by The Washington Post, was confirmed by White House press secretary Jen Psaki during a Thursday press briefing.
“This should be completely acceptable to Republicans,” Psaki said, adding that if they reject the proposal, “it would mean having the view that these 50 corporations who don’t pay taxes shouldn’t pay any taxes at all.”
In addition to proposing an alternative way to help pay for the infrastructure package, Biden offered to bring the price tag to $1 trillion in new spending over eight years, down from an initial $2.2 trillion. That $1 trillion, however, would be in addition to a baseline $400 billion that lawmakers already agreed to spend on surface transportation over the next five years.
It’s not clear whether Republicans will go for Biden’s new offer or if they’ll offer another counter-proposal. The GOP has proposed far less in new federal spending, just $250 billion. And they argue any infrastructure spending total should include the $400 billion for surface transportation. Biden and Capito are scheduled to speak again on Friday, but time is running out for bipartisan talks as Democrats in the House prepare to mark up their own bill.
The Biden administration is also not taking the hike in the corporate tax rate off the table entirely, something Republicans are sure to weigh as they consider whether to support signing on to any bipartisan deal on infrastructure. Democrats could, for example, raise the corporate tax rate later to pay for other Biden proposals, such as child care and child tax credits.
Asked Thursday if he’s abandoned his plan to raise the corporate tax to 28%, Psaki said, “Absolutely not ... He continues to believe corporations should pay more.”
Biden faces a steep uphill climb toward a bipartisan deal on infrastructure. Besides Capito, who is keeping Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) regularly informed of the talks, the president needs to sway nine other Republican senators to support a deal and avoid a filibuster.
“I don’t think that’s gonna appeal to members of my party, and I think it’ll be a hard sell to the Democrats,” McConnell said Thursday of including tax increases as a part of an infrastructure package. “Let’s reach an agreement on infrastructure that’s smaller, but still significant and fully paid for.”
Republicans lowered the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21% with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. That law also slashed individual tax rates, but because budget rules allowed them to increase the deficit only so much, the law’s individual provisions expire in 2025. Republicans made only the corporate changes permanent, and, in recent weeks, have talked about the corporate tax cuts as sacrosanct.
Democrats repeatedly hammered Republicans’ decision to permanently cut the corporate tax rate — while only temporarily cutting individual tax rates for the middle class, thus primarily helping the extremely wealthy — during the 2018 election cycle, which gave them control of the House.
Since then, Democrats have been more mealy mouthed about raising the rate back up to 35%. The Biden administration settled on 28% in its original infrastructure proposal to Congress.
Biden’s overture to Republicans, however, has rankled progressives lawmakers, who want to see corporate tax hikes pay for a slate of infrastructure projects and social welfare programs — from investments into electric cars to expanding access to child care.
“I disagree with the decision to remove the increase of the corporate tax rate from infrastructure discussions,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said. “The American people overwhelmingly support making corporations pay their fair share.
“If increasing the corporate tax rate to 28% is removed from infrastructure discussions, then we must ensure that that increase is part of any reconciliation bill going forward,” Khanna said.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) similarly warned that taking a corporate tax hike off the table may imperil other items on the Democrats’ agenda.
“Inadequate corporate tax revenue could leave many critical investments the American people care about off the table, and fall far short of the $2 trillion in corporate revenue called for in the president’s proposals,” Wyden said in a statement to HuffPost.