The release of the Big Six tax reform framework has been, as a whole, an encouraging development. From what we know so far, Congress looks set to finally simplify the tax code and reduce taxes, a winning combination that will ease compliance burdens while putting money back in the pockets of middle-class Americans.
Yet fear is developing that full expensing of business investments might be pitted against other pro-growth reforms, like a lowering of the corporate tax rate, with legislators forced to pick one or the other. Lawmakers should not be misled by this false dichotomy.
The current system for tax treatment of business investments is to depreciate assets over a complicated "schedule," compliance with which can cost businesses more than $23 billion annually. Depreciation can also spread out the "recovery period" of the asset's value over a couple decades. An extended recovery period can cause businesses to lose out on investment opportunities and subjects the asset's value to inflation. Full expensing, by contrast, would allow businesses to fully and immediately deduct the value of investments from their taxable income. This makes it a uniquely effective driver of economic growth, as businesses only derive a benefit when they invest.
The Big Six framework calls for full expensing for five years. After those five years, the future of full expensing would be up in the air. Would the policy revert to the current, and similarly temporary, half-measure, "bonus depreciation," whereby businesses expense half the value of an asset then depreciate the rest? Or would businesses have to depreciate the entire value of their assets? Many details remain to be determined.
As I explain here, so-called "temporary expensing," while a step in the right direction, wouldn't offer the strongest growth potential. However, its inclusion in the framework is hardly by accident; because of the way the Congressional Budget Office scores the budgetary impact of legislation over a 10-year period, the agency's analysis of temporary expensing will show it will reduce tax revenues by less than full expensing, meaning a smaller deficit created by tax cuts in the rest of the plan.
Meanwhile, the Tax Foundation compared the economic impact of two policies whose score in terms of foregone revenue would be the same: full expensing and a cut of the corporate tax rate to 28.25 percent. Dollar for dollar, full expensing would generate twice the GDP growth as the corporate rate cut.
However, policymakers are not forced to pick one or the other. Full expensing and a corporate tax rate cut are better together. Lowering corporate tax rates likewise decreases the amount of revenue that full expensing foregoes, as corporations are receiving a deduction on income that is taxed a lower rate. Full expensing costs approximately $700 billion less over a 10-year period with a 20 percent corporate tax rate than it would under a 35 percent tax rate.
Policymakers could also make room for these reforms by eliminating more deductions and credits or by cutting spending. They should not, however, force two pro-growth measures to duel to the death because of a false dilemma.
Americans deserve a robust economy that is unhindered by a burdensome and complex tax code. Both a lower corporate tax rate and permanent full expensing for business investments would help to accomplish these goals.
Competition in tax reform should be between policies that facilitate economic growth versus policies that hinder economic growth, not two of the former. Comprehensive tax reform that benefits the taxpayer will be difficult to attain if Congress continues to get bogged down in political food fights between two sides that each are pushing for good policies.
Andrew Wilford (@PolicyWilford) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is an associate policy analyst at the National Taxpayers Union Foundation and a co-author of NTUF's latest policy report on full expensing.
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