Outlines principles and objectives for fundamental tax reform
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) today outlined seven critical elements for tax reform, based on three key principles of growth, simplicity and fairness, at a ‘Talking Tax Reform’ event hosted by the Tax Foundation.
“Thank you everyone for coming out. And let me say thank you to the Tax Foundation for the fantastic work you do, scoring and modeling tax proposals, helping provide the basic economic data that we need to understand this issue.
“You know the past several weeks have been trying weeks for the state of Texas. We have endured the ravages of Hurricane Harvey – which inflicted massive devastation across 250 miles of the Texas Gulf Coast. And then we have seen Caribbean Islands, and Florida, and Georgia, suffering under the consequences of Hurricane Irma. And throughout those hurricanes we’ve been lifting our friends and neighbors up in prayer. But we’ve also seen communities coming together. We’ve seen communities uniting to pull people out of harm’s way – to save their lives. And we’ve seen communities uniting to rebuild.
“And it is my hope that that same spirit of unity that we’ve seen displayed from Victoria and Rockport, Port Aransas and Houston, and Bellaire and Meyerland and Beaumont and Port Arthur, and Orange, and Miami to Jacksonville. That same spirit of unity, is my hope that Washington will embody some of that shared response.
“We’ve been given an historic opportunity. An opportunity to produce incredible results for the men and women who elected us. And the question is, will we step up and seize this opportunity? Or will it be one of the greatest missed opportunities in modern history?
“We saw in recent months the battles of Obamacare, how difficult it is to unite and deliver on a campaign promise. Even a central campaign promise, that for seven years Republicans have been promising voters. When it comes to Obamacare, I don’t think we’re done. I don’t think failure is an option. I believe we can still get to ‘yes,’ honor that promise, lower the cost of premiums and make health insurance more affordable.
“But in addition to honoring the commitment on Obamacare, there is another fundamental promise that Washington is grappling with and that is the promise of tax reform. The promise to remodel our antiquated, bureaucratic, ineffective tax system, with the objective of creating more jobs, higher wages, more opportunity. With the objective of making it easier for a factory worker to pay for his son’s education. Making it easier for a single mom to pay her monthly mortgage. Making it easier for a family who is struggling to go on a vacation and share memories, instead of working day and night for the tax man.
“As Washington works to come together on tax reform, we have right now different ideas, different visions in the House of Representatives, different ideas, different visions in the Senate, and even yet more different ideas in the administration. As we work together, I’d like to suggest some principles and fundamental elements that I believe should be embodied in tax reform.
“The first objective, is growth. Economic growth should be number one. Growth, growth, growth. You look at every challenge we’ve got, whether it’s the national debt, whether it’s rebuilding our military, whether it’s strengthening and reforming Social Security and Medicare. With booming growth we can do all of that. Without growth, we can’t do anything. Growth needs to be front and center.
“Our economy since World War II has grown on average 3.3 percent a year. And yet for the past eight years, we’ve been mired in stagnation. From 2008 to the present, the economy has grown just 1.2 percent a year on average. If we stay stuck in 1 and 2 percent growth, none of these problems are solved. If we get back to historic levels of growth, 3, 4, 5 percent – suddenly, the numbers change. Suddenly, and miraculously young people coming out of school instead of wondering, ‘Do I have any chance to pay off my student loans?’ Suddenly, young people are coming out of school with 2, 3, 4, 5 job offers.
“Growth makes a difference in people’s lives. Booming economic growth. Employers fighting for new employees. Raising wages, because that’s the only way they can attract the talent they need. That’s how we turn this country around.
“Tax reform is fundamental to growth. From 2008 to 2012 the economy grew on average 0.9 percent a year. The proceeding four year period, where economic growth was less than 1 percent, was 1978 to 1982. It was coming out of the Jimmy Carter presidency. It was many of the same failed economic policies. Massive taxes. Massive regulation. Massive spending.
“And we know what happened in the 1980s. Ronald Reagan was elected on the promise of tax cuts, of tax reforms. We saw a historic tax reform in ‘81 and ‘86. And by the fourth year of Reagan’s presidency, 1984, we went from stagnant economic growth, less than 1 percent a year, to 7.2 percent a year. Massive booming growth, lifting millions out of poverty. Increasing significantly median incomes for Americans, especially in minority communities. Increasing the median income in the African American community, the Hispanic community – among those who were struggling to achieve the economic dream. If we focus on growth, it helps everybody.
“And let me say, the Tax Foundation produces a tremendous resource for that. This book that they publish, goes through a host of tax ideas, and does simple scoring for a lot of the ideas being discussed. And it goes through and assesses how many jobs will be created or killed if this change is made. What will happen to GDP? That book, is a very useful book. I encourage policymakers looking at that issue, to focus on growth and jobs. The more of it, the better.
“A second objective, simplicity. You know one of the old and simplest rules of policymaking is K.I.S.S. – keep it simple, stupid. Simplicity, especially when it comes to tax reform, is incredibly important. There are right now more than 75,000 pages of tax law, code and regulations and case law. Nobody understands it all. You don’t understand it all. I don’t understand it all. Your accountant doesn’t understand it all. The tax lawyers don’t understand it all. But a lot of people make a lot of money, because no one understands it and we’re going to fight about it forever, ever and ever. How about making it simple and straightforward? Simplicity has power. Bold simplicity has enormous power.
“And the third objective is fairness. We want a tax system that’s fair. That’s not arbitrary. That’s not Washington picking winners and losers. Deciding ‘Okay you guys do well, and you guys do lousy. But with a few more campaign contributions, you guys can do well and you can do lousy.’ That’s not what our tax code should be.
“We need fairness across the country. We need fairness between big companies and little companies. We need fairness between the wealthy and the middle class, and those who are struggling. We need tax reform to benefit everyone, to lift people’s after tax incomes. Another thing that’s useful about the Tax Foundation projections, is they look at each of the different tax reform proposals and say ‘Alright, how does this impact people across the socioeconomic levels?’ We want to help everyone, especially those who are climbing the economic ladder to achieve a better life.
“So what should we do to incorporate those objectives? Seven specific ideas I would like to suggest, that I believe that should be reflected in tax reform which I hope is passed and signed into law by the end of this year, or early next year.
“Number one, a low flat rate for individuals and families. Simplicity. Listen, the best utilized tax dollar is the dollar that stays in your pocket. The dollar that stays with the family that is struggling. The dollar that you can use to pay for your kid’s education. That’s the best dollar. Right now we have seven different individual tax brackets for families, for individuals. What I would love to see is collapsing that into one simple flat tax.
“In the presidential campaign, I campaigned across the country on a simple flat tax, where we abolish the IRS. That remains the objective I’d like to see. That would be a transformative tax reform. And you know if Congress can’t go that far in one step — if you look at the Collectivist, if you look at the Statist, the Fabian Socialist understood that socialism would grow through incremental steps. Well I am going to suggest a reciprocal notion, which is a Fabian free market. That the more we can whittle down, and simplify the tax code, taking it incrementally step by step, the better and better and better we can be.
“So instead of seven tax rates, numerous proposals in the Administration and the House collapsed that down to three. Three is better than seven, and by the way two is better than three and one is better than two. But the more we can can get to a simple flat rate the better.
“Principle number two: postcard. Postcard. Postcard. Postcard. Every year, more than 90 percent of taxpayers seek help when preparing their tax returns. For individuals and families that costs relatively 99 billion dollars a year. In 2016 Americans spent nine billion hours on their taxes. Nine billion hours is a lot of time. That’s more time than some people have in a single day. Nine billion hours wasted, doesn’t produce anything. 2.6 billion of those hours on individual income taxes. The average American should be able to fill out their income taxes on a postcard, a postcard like the one you see here and the one you have on your chairs. Simple. Easy. Let me tell you the biggest value of a postcard, physics. The postcard that is on your chairs is this big, not any bigger. Which means Congress can’t come and add a whole bunch of other provisions. The simple – now look, I wouldn’t put it past them to say let’s print it in four point font, so you need a magnifying glass. But the beauty of the postcard is simply the limitations of this is it, no more.
“You want a powerful legacy? Let me say to President Trump, you want a legacy of tax reform? Throw out the long tax forms we file and replace it with a simple postcard. That is something Americans across this country will remember as a lasting legacy.
“Third element. Immediate expensing. Right now under current law, businesses deduct the cost of acquiring capital assets. Buildings, heavy equipment, vehicles, renovations, over a period of years. Complicated depreciation scales. One the most important reforms that we ought to include in tax reform is full and immediate expensing. If you spend money on capital you should expense that immediately. Now why, what does that mean? Well there’s several benefits to it.
“Number one, expensing is not agnostic between new dollars and old dollars. Expensing is not agnostic between dollars here in America and dollars abroad. Expensing creates an enormous incentive to invest dollars here in America, on American soil that create jobs.
“We started out in the beginning with the big objective: jobs, growth, wages. If you want to see jobs and growth and wages, you want full expensing. Now it’s a massive simplification of the tax code. Much of the time in expenses is dealt figuring out and dealing with the complicated depreciation scales. But it also benefits Main Street.
“You know I will say in the debates about tax reform, different industries, different sectors have a voice. Many of the voices that are heard in Washington are the voices of the financial services. In the financial services world full expensing is not all that critical. Banks don’t tend to deal with a lot of big heavy equipment and machinery.
“But I’ll tell you who does: working men and women. The men and women with calluses on their hands. If you’re a farmer or a rancher, expensing makes it easier for you to buy that new tractor, to buy that new combine. Which also makes it easier for you to hire that new farmhand to work on the farm. If you are a steelworker or an autoworker, expensing incentivizes opening a new factory, to produce steel, to produce cars. If you’re a truck driver, expensing makes it easier to buy a new truck, whether an 18-wheeler or a pick-up truck hauling construction units. If you’re a taxi driver or an Uber driver, expensing makes it easier to get a new taxi or a new Uber car. If you’re a single mom working as a waitress, expensing makes it easier for new restaurant to be built, creating new opportunities for you to get a better job with higher wages. If you are a factory worker in the Rio Grande, a few weeks ago I was down in the Rio Grande and toured two plastics factories, one in the Rio Grande Valley and one up in El Paso. Expensing makes it easier to purchase new injection molding equipment to produce auto parts. Which means, for every one of those big massive new pieces of machinery you need to hire multiple new skilled workers to run that equipment.
“In tax reform, government needs to be responsive to Main Street, not just Wall Street. Expensing is powerful for working men and women. The Tax Foundation has done important work on this, comparing the benefits of expensing to other tax reform proposals.
“Now, there are other tax reform proposals and aspects that are important that are interesting. But what’s interesting on this, is the Tax Foundation’s numbers show that full expensing of capital investment has a massive impact on after tax income for every income level. From the poorest quintile, zero to twenty percent, 4.9 percent increase in after tax income. And it’s uniform and distributed so that across America, 5.3 percent, that’s extra money in your pocket, that’s extra jobs for working men and women, that’s more opportunity, that’s higher wages. Expensing, is one of the most powerfully pro-growth reforms we can consider.
“And let me note, some in Washington are suggesting, ‘Well with expensing, let’s do a little bit. Let’s speed up the depreciation but not go all the way to full expensing.’ I believe that would be a mistake. Number one: Americans spend over $23 billion a year complying with depreciation rules. You want to eliminate that, you’ve got to zero it out. You speed up the depreciation tables, you don’t eliminate that $23 billion, you just have them computing different numbers. If you eliminate, that’s $23 billion a year in real net gain for American consumers and American businesses.
“But a second advantage of eliminating, is that you don’t leave a piggy bank for a bunch of politicians that want to raise taxes in the future and spend more money. You simply speed up the depreciation tables, I can promise you there will come a subsequent Congress, somebody that has a great idea to spend billions of your dollars and all they got to do is fiddle with the numbers a little bit in a way most people don’t understand and they can suddenly extract more money from the economy. If you zero it out, by allowing full expensing is much harder for a subsequent Congress to come back and raise those taxes.
“The next element of reform is a low corporate rate. We have right now in the United States the highest tax rate in the developed world for big corporations. That has a very real consequence, which is American corporations are fleeing America. They are moving to other countries, we have the phenomenon called inversions, where companies, long time American companies, are being acquired by foreign companies or reincorporated so that their headquarters is overseas. For one reason only, to escape the punitive American corporate taxes. Now when they do that, jobs go overseas. When they do that opportunity goes overseas. When they do that, American workers are hurt.
“Now, a lot of politicians like to talk against inversions. I don’t think the answer is to try and force companies to stay here. I think the answer is to make the American business environment so attractive that you’d have to be nuts to leave. We’ve got lots of advantages in America. We have abundant low cost energy, that’s a tremendous advantage in business. We have a skilled educated workforce. We have a system that protects contract rights and property rights and individual rights. But if we have a tax system that makes it impossible to compete, we will continue to see jobs fleeing our country.
“We need a low, fair, simple, corporate tax rate. To be competitive on the global stage, you are looking at 15 percent, 20 percent which is much more in line with where the other countries are than our current punitive 35 percent.
“The next element in tax reform, we need to encourage repatriation. Right now, U.S. companies have roughly $2.7 trillion in cash overseas. Many of those companies would like to bring that money back here. Would like to open new factories. Would like to hire more American workers. But are current system penalizes them for bringing the dollars here. So instead, what do they do? They keep it overseas. They keep the cash overseas or they invest it overseas and open factories there, because they don’t face double taxation. We need to move to a territorial system that encourages people, bring your capital back, put it to use here in America, create jobs, create opportunity.
“The sixth element tax reform should have is we need to end the death tax. The death tax is one of the most unfair aspects of our current tax system. When the family is experiencing the trauma of a death, not only do they deal with the loss of a loved one but they discover that death can be a taxable event. That not only do people work their whole lives and pay taxes their whole lives, but the very last thing that happens when they pass away is the tax man came again to tax them for dying.
“And one the reasons this matters so brutally is that it has an incredibly destructive impact on farmers, on ranchers, and on small businesses. More than 99 percent of U.S employer firms are small businesses. If you care about jobs, you care about small businesses because that’s where jobs come from, is small businesses. It’s why my focus is also on expensing, creating an environment where small businesses can grow, and thrive, and prosper.
“The death tax results in forcing small businesses to be sold. Forcing farms to be sold to pay the tax bill. Forcing ranches to be sold to pay the tax bill. The small businesses sold, the factory owner has to sell his equipment. Well suddenly all those people who had jobs, they find themselves out of luck.
“And the last element I would suggest of tax reform, is ending the alternative minimum tax. The AMT was created in the 1960’s to raise the effective tax rate of the really rich. Have you noticed something? The really rich are really good at getting out of paying taxes. Because they have the money to hire all lots of lawyers, lost of accountants to figure out all the loopholes, all the special aspects.
“You know I’m reminded, Scott of when I first ran for Senate in 2012. I had years earlier told my accountant, I said, “Listen, I hope one day to run for office. I expect my tax returns will be scrutinized. So if you’re making any calls, if there are any gray areas, stay away from the gray areas. Just pay it.” Well, when I was running I had three principal opponents in the primary- all three were much, much wealthier than I was. Very, very wealthy. We all released our tax returns. Of the four candidates, I by far paid the highest marginal tax rate. Almost two-to-one if I remember correctly from the wealthiest of my opponents. I told that story to my accountant and she said, “Could you stop telling that story? You’re not helping my business.”
“But what does the alternative minimum tax do now? The really wealthy can create vast legal apparatuses to avoid it, but right now more than four million households are ensnared by the AMT. Many of them not super wealthy. And for millions more they have to compute their taxes two ways: under the ordinary tax laws and then under the AMT. It’s duplicative, it’s unnecessary. We started with objectives of growth, fairness, and simplicity. The AMT is the opposite of simplicity. We should use this opportunity to end it, so you have one postcard and not two.
“Now let me talk for a minute at the end about a couple of essential tools that I think are important for implementing these seven specific reforms. First of all, tax reform should not be revenue neutral. This is important and this is a big debate in Washington right now. Now why does anyone care about revenue neutrality? Revenue neutrality means the impact on the budget is not positive or negative. It is not increasing government expenditures or cutting taxes. The reason we care, is that we’re facing unprecedented Democratic filibusters on virtually any meaningful legislation.
“So as a practical matter it is highly unlikely we are going to see a significant number of Democrats supporting tax reform. That’s unfortunate, that didn’t use to be the case. In ‘81, ‘86 when Reagan passed tax reform it used to be bipartisan. We used to agree, Republicans and Democrats, that more jobs are good. That higher wages are good. That economic growth is good. Tax reform passed with Tip O’Neill, a Democrat, as Speaker of the House. It was carried in the House by Phil Gramm, then a conservative Democrat. Among the leaders of the Senate, were Bill Bradley and moderate to liberal Democrats. Unfortunately, the prospects of that happening in today’s Congress are virtually zero.
“Which means, for tax reform to happen, it’s going to have to happen on budget reconciliation. Budget reconciliation is one of the few tools that gets around a filibuster. Budget reconciliation is a process, whereby you only need 51 votes. Fifty votes plus the Vice President to enact meaningful policy changes. So why does budget neutrality matter? Because under budget reconciliation, in order for a tax change to be permanent, or any other change to be permanent, it has to be budget neutral. It has to be deficit neutral. All of us remember the Bush tax cuts. The reason the Bush tax cuts expired in 10 years is because they were passed using budget reconciliation and they won. Budget neutral. So on the tenth year they expired. Those are the constraints of using reconciliation. What I would like to suggest is we should not be revenue neutral.
“Now, permanence when it comes to tax reform is a good thing. If you want a change incentives, if you want a change in behavior, if you want businesses to open new factories based on changes in the tax laws, you want those changes to be predictable and to last more than a few years.
“So how do we achieve both? How do we achieve real tax cuts and have them extend for a significant period of time? And this is a second essential tool. We need to look at significantly longer budget window. The rules of budget reconciliation are laid out in the Budget Act of 1974. Nowhere in the Budget Act of 1974 does it say the budget window has to be 10 years. The Bush tax cuts expired in 10 years, why? Because then they used a 10 year budget window. So they had to expire at the end of that budget window. We’ve used a variety of budget windows in the last 20 years, including twice using an 11 year window instead of 10. I believe in enacting tax reform we should look at a 20 year window or a 30 year window.
“What does that allow you to do? It allows you to get in and pass a major tax cut. And if it expires 30 years from now, that may not be permanent but it’s pretty darn close. Thirty years is a long time. If you have tax laws in place for 30 years, that gives investors, that gives businesses, that gives families time to predict and count on it. If we use a longer budget window, a 30 year budget window, a 20 year budget window, we can dispense of the handcuffs of revenue neutrality and pass a real tax cut. A tax cut, not just reform to reduce taxes and create growth. And when it comes to dynamic scoring. The Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation have been historically very skeptical of dynamic scoring. It’s one of the reasons I’m glad the Treasury Department has a strong commitment to produce a serious, accurate, reliable, dynamic scoring model that should be the guide for Congress going forward. We shouldn’t rely on funny numbers that ignore what actually happened. We should look at real, dynamic scoring.
“Now I would note, on both dynamic scoring and on the budget window, Senator Pat Toomey has been one of the real leaders urging those in the Senate. To do this right, we need a tax cut and the only way to get there is with a longer budget window.
“And a final point: when enacting tax reform, we should also use it as an opportunity to repeal Dodd-Frank. Dodd-Frank is one of the most damaging pieces of legislation in modern times. Dodd-Frank has wreaked havoc. Dodd-Frank was sold to the American people to stop “too big to fail.” How has that worked out? The big banks are bigger and the smaller banks, the community financial institutions have been devastated. Since 1994, the number of community banks has fallen by 40 percent. Their share of assets has fallen by more than half- from 41 percent to 18 percent.
“What’s happened to the big banks? Their share of assets has risen from 18 percent to 46 percent. Dodd-Frank is great if you’re a giant financial institution. It is lousy if you’re a local community bank, if you’re a credit union. And the four years after Dodd-Frank, community banks lost market share at a rate double what they were losing before then. Twelve percent versus six percent.
“In Texas, over 80 community banks have gone under. Nationally, over 1,800 community banks and institutions have gone under. This is not good for the banking institutions but it’s particularly bad for small businesses. If you care about growth, if you care about small businesses, who do you think is lending to small business? Who do you think lends money to that farmer to buy the tractor? Who do you think lends money to that small restaurant owner to open a new restaurant and hire the waiters and waitresses and cooks? It’s the small, community banks, the financial institutions hurt by Dodd-Frank.
“To sum up, if you remember just five things that I said today – that’ll be four more than a typical Washington speech – but if you remember just five, let it be these: Growth. Postcard. Full expensing. Tax cuts, not just reform. And repeal Dodd-Frank.
“If we follow those guidelines, we can see tremendous economic growth, more jobs, higher wages, more opportunity. We can step up to this historic opportunity. And I hope and pray that leaders in Congress and the Administration do exactly that. Thank you.”