Elizabeth Warren Has a Novel Idea: Tax Corporations on the Profits They Claim Publicly
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN is unveiling a new way to tax corporations: Take them at their word.
Due to the vagaries of American corporate accounting, companies routinely tell investors on conference calls that they made billions in profit over the previous quarter, then turn around and tell the IRS that, actually, they made no money at all, so they don’t owe any taxes. Warren’s plan would tax those companies on the profits they claim publicly.
The proposal, called the “Real Corporate Profits Tax,” would only apply to companies that report more than $100 million in worldwide profits, and every dollar above $100 million would be taxed at 7 percent.
Warren’s new corporate profits tax plan is the latest in a series of sweeping, detailed policy proposals. Her platform includes a plan to introduce universal child care, which would be paid for with a new tax on multimillionaires, breaking up big tech monopolies, and combating corruption in government, among other positions that have largely been adopted by Democratic contenders, such as Medicare for All.
In a Medium post outlining the plan, the lawmaker explained the reasoning behind creating a new marginal tax: Raising the corporate tax rate alone isn’t enough when the corporate tax code is “so littered” with loopholes. “We need corporate tax reform, but we also need to recognize that enormous companies with armies of lawyers and accountants will always try to exploit any deductions and exemptions that remain,” wrote Warren, a Democratic presidential candidate.
“To raise the revenue we need — and ensure every corporation pays their fair share — we need a new kind of tax that big companies can’t get around.”
An estimated 1,200 public corporations would be subject to this tax, a move Warren said would neutralize the financial advantages of massive companies and give smaller businesses “a fighting chance.” Amazon, for example, would pay $698 million in taxes under the corporate profits tax instead of zero. And Occidental Petroleum, a summary of the proposal noted, would pay $280 million in taxes instead of zero.
“In a recent eight-year period, 25 big companies alone claimed $286 billion in tax breaks,” Warren noted. “And that was before the Republican tax bill slashed the corporate tax rate and handed hundreds of billions of dollars more to corporations.”
Under President Donald Trump’s tax overhaul, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the corporate tax rate dropped from 35 percent to 21 percent, making it easier for companies to avoid paying taxes. This year, twice as many companies are paying zero taxes on their billions of profit, NBC News reported. At least 60 companies reported a tax rate of zero, according to an analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.
In addition to not paying a dime last year in federal taxes on more than $11 billion in profits, Amazon received a tax refund of $129 million from the federal government.Her corporate tax proposal would bring in $1.05 trillion in revenue over the next decade, according to an estimate from economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman at the University of California, Berkeley.
Since the tax is on the global income of U.S. companies and can’t be avoided by shifting income to low-tax jurisdictions, and because it doesn’t allow for deductions or credits, the possibilities of avoiding these taxes are limited, Saez and Zucman wrote in a letter to Warren.
“It’s a low rate, and it only applies to the very top of the biggest corporate profits that companies book every year — but there are no loopholes, no exceptions, and nothing to manipulate,” Warren continued. “If a company tells its investors it made more than $100 million this year, it’s going to have to pay some taxes.”
Beyond her ability to drive the policy debate, however, Warren lags behind other Democratic candidates by other metrics of support, such as early polling and fundraising. Warren’s campaign on Wednesday reported raising $6 million for her presidential bid over the course of three months, falling behind Sens. Bernie Sanders, who raised $18 million in six weeks, and Kamala Harris, who raised $12 million in two months. Even South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who thinks the left should be less policy-led and more philosophical, slightly out-raised the Massachusetts senator. Warren only out-raised Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., by a small margin.
Warren, however, has sworn off not just corporate PAC money, but money raised from the wealthy at private fundraisers or by dialing for dollars, which has traditionally been the path toward eye-popping quarterly fundraising totals. Only Sanders similarly avoids such big money.
Aída Chávez is a journalist based in Washington, D.C., covering Congress and the impact of public policy on diverse communities. Prior to joining The Intercept, she worked for The Hill and Cronkite News – Arizona PBS. She graduated from Arizona State University in 2017 with a B.A. in journalism and political science.