GOP ‘Jobs Agenda’ Revives Ineffective Business Tax Giveaway

This week, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) released a memo outlining the House GOP’s supposed “jobs agenda.” In addition to being an assault on organized labor and recommending the elimination of environmental regulations that save tens of thousands of lives every year, the document proposes reviving some of the GOP’s favorite tax cuts, including the so-called “20% Small Business Tax Deduction.”

This particular idea made an appearance in both an “economic plan” that Cantor and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) presented to President Obama in 2009 and the GOP’s 2010 Pledge to America. The policy would allow businesses to deduct 20 percent of their income from their taxes, and in Cantor’s words, “immediately free up funds for small business people to retain and hire new employees, and reinvest in and grow their businesses.”

However, as Citizens for Tax Justice pointed out in 2009, there is little reason to think this tax break would be anything but a boondoggle:

The Republican plan proposes to allow a “small business” to take a tax deduction of 20 percent of its pretax income, whether the small business is a corporation or a sole proprietor. The plan defines a “small business” as one with 500 or fewer employees. It makes no distinction based on income. A “small business” making $100 million would get to deduct $20 million of its income right off the top. (Apparently, a company with slightly more than 500 employees would have an incentive to lay off staff to qualify for the tax break!) […]

A business tax cut is just about the least effective stimulus measure Congress could possibly enact. The tax cuts put more money in the hands of business. But there is very little correlation between a corporation’s cash position and its plans for investment — whether expanding capacity or hiring new employees. Businesses invest in expansion when they believe there will be an increase in the demand for the goods and services they provide. If they don’t anticipate a sales increase, they won’t expand no matter how many tax breaks the federal government gives them.

And the Center for American Progress’ Christian Weller noted in 2010 that, while the credit is restricted to business with fewer than 500 employees, it’s still “an ‘upside-down’ tax break that gives the largest benefits to those who already have the highest incomes” because the amount of the deduction is contingent on which tax bracket a business files in (the higher the tax bracket, the more the deduction is worth):

A deduction reduces the taxable income and thus the taxes that somebody has to pay. A business owner with lots of business and other income will thus get a government subsidy of 35 cents for each dollar in deduction, while a small business owner in the 15 percent tax bracket will get 15 cents for each dollar in deductions…Larger businesses could easily use this windfall to outcompete smaller businesses. A larger business owner with a 35 percent marginal tax rate will get a benefit that is 133 percent greater than the benefit that a smaller business owner with a 15 percent marginal tax rate gets for each dollar in tax deduction.

But for the GOP, this idea is so good that it’s worth bringing up over and over again.