Upside-Down Hill

By Global Tax Weekly

It’s something of an exaggeration to say that the United States Congress is totally paralyzed. Yes, the ideological chasm between a left-wing Government and a right-wing Republican Party holding sway in the House of Representatives is wide. Yet since the commencement of the 113th Congress on January 5, 2013 – perhaps the most divided Congress in modern history – 146 laws have been enacted and the current session isn’t due to end until January 3, 2015. Yes, this figure is substantially lower than the 283 laws enacted in the 112th Congress and the 383 enacted in the 111th. But it shows that Congress isn’t completely gridlocked. The difference between the current session and the previous two is that the amount of tax legislation passed over the last 18 months has been virtually nil, (scouring the list of statutes, I found four: the Fallen Firefighters Tax Clarification Act; an amendment to include vaccines against seasonal influenza within the definition of taxable vaccines; tax benefits for charitable cash contributions for the relief of victims of the Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines; and a law which eliminates taxpayer financing of presidential campaigns and party conventions). Don’t get me wrong here; there’s no point in passing laws for the sake of it, and sometimes, in the interests of stability, less is more. But Congress has maybe passed laws when it hasn’t really needed to, and hasn’t when it really has needed to: the 50 or so tax provisions known as the “tax extenders” which expired at the end of last year being the most obvious example. Among these extenders is the R&D tax credit, which has been renewed more than 20 times since its inception around 30 years ago. With probably billions of dollars of investment in research riding on such things, it’s no way to run a tax code! The protagonists in Congress have their reasons for holding their ground so doggedly, but it isn’t doing America’s reputation or competitiveness much good. The USA is now paying the price for effectively refusing to join the corporate tax cut race.

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