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Biden offers tax deal to Republicans in infrastructure talks

In this photo taken Thursday, May 27, 2021, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., the GOP's lead negotiator on a counteroffer to President Joe Biden's infrastructure plan, speaks at a news conference as she is joined by, from left, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, and Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

President Joe Biden is trying to break a logjam with Republicans on how to pay for infrastructure improvements, proposing a 15% minimum tax on corporations and the possibility of revenues from increased IRS enforcement as a possible compromise.

The offer was made Wednesday to Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia as part of the bipartisan negotiations and did not reflect a change in Biden’s overall vision for funding infrastructure, according to a person familiar with the talks who insisted on anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Biden has proposed increasing the corporate tax rate to 28% from 21% to help fund his plans for roads, bridges, electric vehicles and broadband, and that remains his preferred approach. But the rate hike is a non-starter with Republicans because it would undo the 2017 tax cuts signed into law by President Donald Trump.

By floating an alternative — there is no minimum corporate tax now on profits — Biden was trying to give Republicans a way to back infrastructure without violating their own red line of keeping corporate tax rates low. The Washington Post first reported the offer.

The president is essentially staking out the principle that profitable corporations should pay income taxes. Many companies can avoid taxes or minimize their bills through a series of credits, deductions and other ways of structuring their income and expenses.

The president has insisted that the middle class should not bear the cost of greater infrastructure spending. Yet a chasm exists in negotiations because Republicans say that corporate tax increases will hinder economic growth.

The idea of imposing a minimum corporate tax is not new from Biden, who proposed the policy during the presidential campaign last year. The center-right Tax Foundation estimated that a minimum tax would subtract 0.21% from long-run U.S. gross domestic product.

“He’s been pushing it since the primaries over a year ago,” said George Callas, managing director of of government affairs for the law firm Steptoe and a former tax counsel to House Republicans. Callas said that the minimum tax would mostly hit firms such as electric utilities and telecoms that make substantial capital investments as well as companies that rely on paying their employees with stock.

Biden is seeking roughly $1 trillion in infrastructure spending, down from an initial pitch of $2.3 trillion. Republicans, so far, have countered with only $257 billion in additional spending on infrastructure, a fraction of what the president says is necessary to compete globally and boost economic growth.

Talks over Biden’s top legislative priority have been moving slowly, a daunting undertaking given the massive infrastructure investment, and time for a deal is running out. The administration has set a June 7 deadline to see clear direction and signs of progress.

Biden and Capito are set to meet again on Friday.

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