Congress to Big Business: Oooooh, hurt me again!

No matter how badly corporate America screws the nation, politicians keep begging for more.

Published November 3, 2003 7:30PM (EST)

Dearest Big,

Darling, I long for your return. Why did you leave, taking billions of dollars and millions of jobs with you? Is it simply because I helped you?

I thought we had the perfect relationship, even if you were high maintenance, demanding all the goodies and giving as little as possible in return. At only 1.2 percent of the economy over the past two fiscal years, corporate taxes are at their lowest level since the 1930s, except for that one year during Ronald Reagan's first term.

Even after you left, I let you defer taxes on the earnings of your foreign subsidiaries unless you brought the money back. I was so sure you would want to come home.

I gave you everything. But now I see that two corporate tax reductions in two years are not enough to satisfy you. So let me be once, twice, three times a Brady. Rep. Brady, R-Texas, to be precise, who with Rep. Phil English, R-Penn., sponsored a hot number called the Homeland Investment Act. Honey, this is one act that will keep you coming back for more.

I should have known you'd never consent to pay a 35 percent tax rate. Not when you're used to paying nothing at all. Oh, you little devil. You know you get me all excited with those loopholes and subsidies of yours. Sure, families getting by on $30,000 a year must pay an average of 17 percent. And yes, companies that paid American taxes all along are essentially being penalized for it. But those wallflowers are not like you and me, are they, darling? They'll never know the rush of voting themselves a congressional pay raise for the fifth straight year in a row. Or the thrill of writing off half the cost of the world's tackiest $2 million birthday party as a business expense.

Farewell, Sardinia. We'll always have Florida, won't we? Wow, how do 98 percent of companies there pay no corporate tax at all when the poorest, those who earn under $15,000 a year, pay state and federal governments almost 15 bucks of every $100 they earn? Ooh, aah, you're the king!

And you'll always have Bermuda. (Oh, how I fantasize about meeting you there in your teeny tiny office without any staff!) But (sigh) all I have is a dirty postcard from your mail drop -- and a lot of explaining to do to my constituents. They keep asking when all the jobs are coming back.

What a time for you to play hard to get! But it only spurs me on to prove that I am your loyal sweetheart. Let me dangle an indecent proposal. Do a little striptease on that 35 percent tax rate. That's right, baby. I want to give you all the time you need to "repatriate" your foreign earnings back to the U.S. and pay a skimpy, sexy 5.25.

Oh sure, I hear the gossip. People say I spoil you. That if you get your way now you'll just stash even more money overseas and sashay up to me one fine day demanding another tax break. But you wouldn't do that, would you, babe? You wouldn't say "screw it" to social commitment. Not when I've been so good to you all along.

My friends are always putting you down. They say you play fast and loose with accounting practices. That you can't be trusted. That even if you come home now, you'll be tempted right back by cheap labor and fewer rules. Not to mention people like me showering you with big wet kisses for showing up at all.

But I can't help myself, baby. You know how I love it when you lobby me. Tell me again about the former commissioner of the IRS who is lobbying for a new tax break for the Bechtel Corp., since $22 million annually just isn't enough. Whisper in my ear how, in just the first half of 2003, tax lobbyists for corporate interests romanced members of the Senate Finance and the House Ways and Means Committees with more than $1.4 million in contributions. And how the committees said Yes! Yes! Oh, yes!to bills for corporate tax breaks. "I give to you, and you give to me, true love, true love ..."

Tell me how we're responding to the World Trade Organization's charge that the $55 billion tax break for American exporters is illegal -- by supporting new corporate tax breaks worth as much as $142 billion. Naughty, but nice!

So when you keep your money in foreign tax havens and controversial offshore shelters, do I get uptight? No, I play along. I turn this frumpy old nation into a temporary tax haven! I drop the prissy attitude and make like Rep. Phil English, who talks about "luring" you back. Says you're "discouraged" from bringing your foreign earnings home, and that hundreds of billions of American dollars are "stranded" overseas. Oh, you poor, poor baby. Let me make it cheap and easy for you to bring it all home. OK, a mere fraction of it. OK, 20 bucks and a quickie.

Darling, some people just don't understand you the way I do. Some prudes say that giving corporate tax breaks during rising deficits is obscene, that it could drain billions from the Treasury, and encourage companies to move even more business overseas. But all's fair in lust and war. The cartel wants what it wants.

Don't be put off when a stick-in-the-mud like Joel Friedman, of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, says you don't actually need tax breaks because you already have plenty of cash, or the ability to borrow, and aren't having trouble financing capital investments. So? Why should that stop you from having a little fun?

Mr. Friedman also says there's no guarantee what you'll do with the money. That just because I tell everyone you'll be good and use it to create jobs doesn't mean you will. Well, I don't care what Mr. Friedman says. Because I want you, baby. I need you. And even if you hurt me a hundred times, a hundred times I'll take you back.

And forget boring old Robert S. McIntyre, director of Citizens for Tax Justice, when he says, "Given the extraordinarily low level of corporate tax payments today, further corporate tax reductions are especially unwarranted. Instead, Congress should move in exactly the opposite direction, by closing loopholes and restoring corporate tax payments back up to a reasonable level." What a square. I'll never date him, never!

So here's to being "in congress" with you, my sweet,

Love always,
Politics as Usual

By Joyce McGreevy

Joyce McGreevy is a writer in Portland, Ore.

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