Republicans confront new snag for corporate tax cut

Republicans confront new  snag for corporate tax cut
© Greg Nash

Republican senators are wrestling with how to handle the corporate alternative minimum tax (AMT) in the final tax-cut bill.

Senators had initially proposed repealing the corporate AMT. But not long before the chamber passed its tax bill early Saturday morning, they reinstated it to help offset other tax provisions.

The late addition has roiled business groups, who warn that keeping the corporate AMT would be harmful and dampen the economic benefits of the legislation. 

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Many Republicans say they want to repeal the tax or mitigate its impact. But there are challenges to doing so because lawmakers will have to find other ways to raise revenue.

 

“It would be nice if we could eliminate the AMT. However, I’d like to see what the pay-for would be,” Sen. Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsHillicon Valley: Facebook launches 'News Tab' | Senate passes bill to take on 'deepfakes' | Schumer outlines vision for electric cars Senate passes legislation to combat 'deepfake' videos America's newest comedy troupe: House GOP MORE (R-S.D.) told reporters Wednesday.

When asked if the corporate AMT would be in the final bill, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump awards Medal of Freedom to racing industry icon Roger Penske Trump holds more Medal of Freedom ceremonies than predecessors but awards fewer medals Trump to award Medal of Freedom to former Attorney General Edwin Meese MORE (R-Utah) said, “Right now it doesn’t look like it, but you never know.” 

The corporate AMT is a parallel tax code with a rate of 20 percent and a tax base that takes away many tax preferences.

Because the Senate tax bill would lower the regular corporate tax rate to 20 percent, matching the AMT rate, it would effectively eliminate the research and development tax credit and other tax preferences for many businesses.

The Joint Committee on Taxation, Congress’s official tax scorekeeper, estimated that including the corporate AMT in the bill would raise about $40 billion over 10 years. Some tax experts suggest that number should be even higher.

Businesses have argued that including the corporate AMT could make the tax bill less conducive to fostering economic growth.

“Research and development is the lifeblood of manufacturing. The [National Association of Manufacturers] supports pro-growth tax reform, and is working with key policymakers to ensure the final bill does not inadvertently harm manufacturing,” said Chris Netram, vice president for tax and domestic economic policy at the National Association of Manufacturers.

Joe Pasetti, senior director of government affairs at the Semiconductor Industry Association, said that keeping the corporate AMT “effectively repeals the [research and development] credit and potentially undermines several major international reforms.”  

“As a highly research-intensive industry with over 80 percent of sales abroad, [the Semiconductor Industry Association] is gravely concerned about the impact of the AMT on domestic semiconductor research, and we have urged conferees to adopt the House position of full corporate AMT repeal,” he said in a blog post on the group’s website.

Several Senate Republicans said they would prefer that the corporate AMT be eliminated. 

“I think it’s better policy,” Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanWhy Republicans are afraid to call a key witness in the impeachment inquiry Republicans warn election results are 'wake-up call' for Trump GOP lawmakers fear Trump becoming too consumed by impeachment fight MORE (R-Ohio) told reporters Wednesday.

House Republicans would eliminate the corporate AMT in their bill and continue to believe it should be eliminated.

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyLawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families How centrist Dems learned to stop worrying and love impeachment On The Money: Senate passes first spending package as shutdown looms | Treasury moves to roll back Obama rules on offshore tax deals | Trade deal talks manage to weather Trump impeachment storm MORE (R-Texas) told reporters Wednesday the cost of complexity associated with the AMT “actually undermines some of the pro-growth provisions that we kept in the tax code, such as the research and development tax credit.”

He said House Republicans “feel strongly that the House position [in conference] should be to repeal permanently both the individual and the corporate AMT.”

The issue for Republicans is that if they repeal the corporate AMT, they may need to find another way to pay for part of their tax cuts. Under the Republican budget resolution, the tax bill can’t add more than $1.5 trillion to the deficit.

It’s possible that Republicans may not end up fully repealing the corporate AMT but instead scale it back.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Hillicon Valley: Twitter shares more details on political ad rules | Supreme Court takes up Google-Oracle fight | Pentagon chief defends Microsoft cloud contract House, Senate announce agreement on anti-robocall bill MORE (R-S.D.) said there are “different ways you could structure a repeal or a partial repeal.” For example, the rate could be lowered.

But Portman said lawmakers could just decide to repeal the corporate AMT and try to make up the revenue elsewhere.

Ultimately, it’s up to a House-Senate conference committee to resolve the issue. The Senate voted on Wednesday to go to conference, after the House did so on Monday.

“People are letting us know their concerns, and we’ll just have to take that into account,” Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy GOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Overnight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban MORE (R-Texas) said.

Besides the corporate AMT, the conference committee will have to determine the fate of the alternative minimum tax for individuals. The House bill would do away with the individual AMT, while the Senate bill keeps it but increases the exemption amounts.

When asked about the AMT on Wednesday by radio host Hugh Hewitt, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy On The Money: Trump asks Supreme Court to block Dem subpoena for financial records | Kudlow 'very optimistic' for new NAFTA deal | House passes Ex-Im Bank bill opposed by Trump, McConnell Top House Democrats ask for review of DHS appointments MORE (R-Ky.) said that repealing it was the “original goal” and is “one of the dials that has to be twisted.”

McConnell also said that he couldn’t say what the final bill will look like because there are many moving parts.

“It’s just impossible for me on your program, or frankly to anybody else at this point, to predict exactly how the final product turns out,” McConnell told Hewitt.