Under current law, corporations are generally not allowed to claim federal tax credits if the credits exceed their overall tax liability, meaning they cannot receive more from the government than they pay in. If corporations cannot claim their federal tax credits, they can roll them into future years. The proposal being discussed by several Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee would void that limit, allowing firms to “cash out” on all their credits this year. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity to frankly discuss internal deliberations.
The emerging tax proposal comes amid intensifying jockeying among special interest groups and congressional lawmakers over the next round of congressional stimulus, which could be as large as $1 trillion.
Three lobbyists said the plan has emerged as one of the top priorities for American business groups in the next congressional package. The White House, congressional Republicans and business groups have also pushed aggressively for a “liability shield” that would insulate firms from lawsuits from customers or employees who develop covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, but Democrats have rejected that proposal as a non-starter. Several congressional aides and lobbyists predicted that the tax overhaul was more likely to be approved as part of a broader bipartisan deal. On Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told congressional lawmakers “small businesses and larger businesses are going to need more help” to weather the downturn.
Congress has already approved multiple tax changes designed to give corporate America access to additional short-term funding, and Democrats have argued that lawmakers should focus on providing emergency relief to workers and small businesses. Tax experts say it is unclear which sectors would most benefit from the change, but they argue the rebound in the stock market suggests many of the large companies likely to take advantage of the break may not need it.
“This form of cashing out could strip the government of revenue in the future to give money away to business owners today. That’s very dangerous,” said Steve Rosenthal, a policy analyst at the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan think tank. “This is another overreach by big businesses to grab tax dollars at a time when small businesses need assistance.”
Some experts pointed out allowing companies to claim the federal credits now would ensure they still have an impact at a time, due to the downturn, when fewer firms have substantial tax liability to offset. Those tax credits incentivize behaviors lawmakers want to encourage, such as research and development and energy investments.
Corporate income tax receipts have dropped from $113 billion at this point last year to $86 billion this year, the Treasury Department said Wednesday, a decrease of nearly 25 percent. That number probably understates the extent of the drop because it includes several months in this fiscal year before the coronavirus started impacting the economy, according to Marc Goldwein, senior vice president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan think tank.
“This would allow credits to continue to work as intended during the pandemic when there is not much taxable income. That is good,” said Kyle Pomerleau, a tax policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank.
Caroline Harris, vice president of tax policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, added in a statement: “The Chamber strongly supports additional tax relief, such as the monetization of general business credits, that provides businesses much needed liquidity so they can remain operational and maintain payrolls.”
A House Democratic aide said in a statement that “providing businesses and investors with early access to tax credits does not seem like the best use of federal dollars.”
The brewing debate over the potential tax change comes as congressional aides start to compile ideas and go to work on the fourth stimulus package in response to the virus. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said Congress is unlikely to begin debating this next package until after July 4.
Congress must make a number of enormous decisions in its next relief package, including the fate of the $600 increase in unemployment benefits and federal aid to state and local governments. President Trump has said the next package should include several tax cuts, including a reduction of the payroll tax and a cut in capital gains taxes, as well as other changes aimed at spurring business growth. Congressional Democrats have called for sending Americans an additional round of $1,200 stimulus checks and extending the $600 increase in weekly unemployment benefits approved by Congress in March. Mnuchin told reporters Thursday that the administration is still weighing whether to back another round of stimulus payments.