Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in September 2017.
Ever since President Trump and the GOP enacted their gargantuan tax cut, Democrats have done a pretty good job of highlighting how the plan disproportionately benefits the wealthiest few, how it sets the table for future cuts to the federal safety net, and how corporations’ newfound savings have generated more than $200 billion in stock buybacks and minimal increases in worker pay.
But they haven’t done a good job of articulating an affirmative tax policy agenda of their own—let alone whether they even intend to push for a “repeal and replace” of the cuts, should they regain any semblance of political power.
Earlier this month, Washington Post reporter David Weigel asked New York Representative Joe Crowley, who is part of the Democratic House Leadership team, whether the party would run in 2018 on repealing the tax cuts. He hedged, talking about how Americans want to “restore balance” to the political system. When Weigel pressed him, Crowley said, "Democrats are for creating economic security for the American people. We're not in favor of putting the country further out of balance."
That’s that kind of political waffling that has muddied the Democratic response to the tax cuts. But on Tuesday, two Democrats—Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Texas Representative Lloyd Doggett—put some substance behind the party’s oppositional messaging by introducing the No Tax Breaks for Outsourcing Act. While Trump campaigned on his “America First” message, promising to stop corporations from sending good jobs abroad, the tax bill he signed into law actually incentives companies to set up shop—and stash profits—overseas. Of all the campaign promises that Trump abandoned via the tax law, this one is perhaps the most egregious.
The new law established a lower 10.5 percent tax rate—half the domestic corporate rate—on the income that American corporations earn abroad. As Kimberly Clausing, a tax policy expert at Reed College, told The New York Times, “It’s sort of an America-last tax policy. We are basically saying that if you earn in the U.S., you pay X, and if you earn abroad, you pay X divided by two.” On top of that, American companies do not have to pay U.S. taxes on any profits earned from factories and equipment that is overseas, so long as such profits remain below a certain threshold of overall international investment. Critics say this could spark a new wave of offshored jobs.
The new Democratic bill aims to fix those skewed incentives by equaling out the corporate tax rates for both domestic and foreign profits, repealing the incentives to set up operations abroad, and cracking down on corporate inversions as a tool for international tax evasion.
“President Trump promised the American people he’d end the march of jobs and profits overseas. Instead, he’s doled out massive new tax breaks that reward offshoring,” Senator Whitehouse said in a statement. “Our bill would prohibit multinational corporations from exploiting the loopholes opened by President Trump’s so-called ‘tax reform.’ Those big corporations have profited long enough from special tax breaks—now we need a tax code that’s fair to small businesses and middle-class workers.”
The Whitehouse-Doggett bill has already drawn the support of a broad array of progressive advocacy and labor groups. Beyond that, it’s unlikely that the bill will go anywhere. Altering the tax treatment of foreign-earned profits has long been a top Republican priority. But when it comes to Democrats clearly articulating how they plan to undo the damage done by the Trump tax cuts, and how they plan to talk about the issue in the fall campaign, the bill is at least a step in the right direction.