Thursday, July 27, 2017

It's not your imagination - The Border Adjustment Tax is DEAD!!! Yahoo!

Read the joint statement here (published by the White House).  

In pertinent part, it says:

"And we are now confident that, without transitioning to a new domestic consumption-based tax system, there is a viable approach for ensuring a level playing field between American and foreign companies and workers, while protecting American jobs and the U.S. tax base.  While we have debated the pro-growth benefits of border adjustability, we appreciate that there are many unknowns associated with it and have decided to set this policy aside in order to advance tax reform."  

In other words, it's dead and it's gone, not to return.

The Washington Post says it clearly - it's a concession of defeat by Ryan and Brady.  

Let's hear it for rationality!

Rumorville - BAT to finally bite the dust - today?

In an article published today on Politico Pro, Chris Wilhelm quotes two unnamed White House sources (Scaramucci?  Priibus?) with "knowledge of the matter" who state that a unified tax reform agenda to be published later today will formally drop the noxious Border Adjustment Tax. The unified agenda is said to reflect the combined views of tax reform of the White House and congressional leaders.

Stay tuned!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Obamacare Legislation Collapses in Senate. The Republicans can't Govern.

Not sure why I still worry about the BAT.  There is zero indication that the Senate would ever go for it, and even more to the point, the Republicans have nearly proven mathematically that they are unable to govern. Who knew?

Well, I have predicted that the Republicans would fracture, and they have.  What I have not been able to foresee is the Ryan/Brady political suicide pact to stick with the loathsome BAT until death do them part.  And that seems to be where they're at, despite no semblance of a House majority much less a path through the Senate.  All one needs to see is the healthcare debacle to know that the Republicans are all over the map on policy.  No Democrat will rescue them, either.  Bipartisanship under these circumstances is an absurd fantasy.

This being said, we are still exposed to a sell out by someone.  Even that seems hard to picture.  As we daily march closer to Midterms and further from the Trumpian invective of the 2016 General Election, with his wild promises and wilder plans, the odds that any member of Congress will take their political future in their hands by voting for something as destabilizing as the BAT seems below zero. I just can't see it.

Nevertheless, with Ryan and Brady clinging like grim death to this awful idea, we cannot let go.  It could, somehow, rise from the dead with such powerful if unpersuasive advocates.  When they say "no mas", I will consider the BAT dead, but until then, it's alive.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

When will the BAT go away, for good?

There really hasn't been any substantive news on the BAT in the last couple weeks. Between North Korean missile launches, fake news twitter bombs and the stymied health care reform debacle, the issue seems to have gone on the back burner.  Nevertheless, Brady and Ryan remains nominally committed to the idea, regardless of the sinking support for the initiative.  Aside from those with a vested interest in the BAT proposal, namely Paul Ryan and Congressmen who have thrown their lot in with him to gain power (Brady, Nunes, Roskam, etc.), no one seems to have even mild enthusiasm for the proposal.

Without the votes, Ryan and Brady face worse odds on tax reform than even killing off Obamacare.  The likely debacle of healthcare legislation makes tax reform less likely by the day.  Some, like Bloomberg, are saying that Ryan and Brady are saving it as a bargaining chip for later.  That may be true, but a bargaining chip is only valuable if it is credible.  In this case, the BAT is full of holes.  I don't see what it is worth as a bargaining chip.  The behavior of leadership is baffling and frustrating.  No one knows why they won't give up the ghost.

Interestingly, the toll taken on the Republican brand by Mr. Trump and his shenanigans is becoming quite clear.  The WSJ notes that Republicans are striking out in getting volunteers to run against incumbent Democrats in Senate races in states where Trump won big.  To me, this is predictive of the continuing stalemate and maelstrom that is Congressional action by Republicans.  The debasement of the Republican brand makes it hazardous to follow leadership, either Congressional leadership (Brady and Ryan) or the White House.  Notably, Rep. Pat Tiberi is mentioned by the WSJ as declining to run against Sherrod Brown.  That's quite interesting, given that he is one of the Republicans on Ways and Means who have spoken publicly about his problems with the BAT.  So here's a Congressman who is definitely sticking around and is nevertheless publicly poking Ryan and Brady in the eye.

So why can't Ryan and Brady keep the Republicans in line?  Any number of reasons, but I believe it's all about incentives.  There is little incentive to fall in line.  How can leadership reward "good" behavior?  How can leadership discipline Republicans who won't play ball?  Again, no answer.  The White House has not demonstrated that it has the power to enforce either.  The wins in by-elections this year have all occurred in very safe districts that the Republicans struggled to hold.  Without a way to keep folks in line, in an environment dominated by a President who is alienating everyone, it is hard to picture Ryan and Brady holding a cohesive and trustworthy majority together for hardly anything, much less radical tax reform.

So we must continue to wait and watch.  Fortunately, the admirable Americans for Affordable Products continues to pummel the BAT on a daily basis.  Thank heavens for them.  We will prevail in due course, but it may take time before an acknowledged victory can be declared.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Ryan Speech on Tax Reform Said to Not Reference the BAT

CNBC reports today (at 5.22 in the below video) that Paul Ryan makes no reference to the Border Adjustment Tax in his pending speech on tax reform.  Treasury Secretary Mnuchin did not rebut this assertion.  If true, this is a major shift from Mr. Ryan.  Is the end near???

Mnuchin speaks in the same interview about the need to implement a territorial tax system. Please NOTE that we can have a territorial system without having a VAT or a BAT. Territorial tax systems and the Border Adjustment Tax are not synonymous.  Mnuchin is saying that he does not want to tax income earned offshore, and thus wants to open the door to repatriation of foreign earnings on some basis.

I have previously reported rumors that a hybrid system will be proposed wherein foreign earnings are taxed at a lower level to replace the BAT.  This plan would match (minimally) what Mnuchin is claiming.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Brady Proposes a Five-Year Phase-In of the BAT

The picture of stubbornness, Kevin Brady today proposed a five-year phase-in of the BAT to "address" the transition issues of the BAT.  He proposes to phase the tax in 20% a year, with 20% of imported COGS included in taxable income in year one, 40% in year two, etc.  I am assuming everything else in the plan remains the same.

A quick examination of our company's actual 2016 results modeled against the Blueprint show the following tax bill based on pre-Blueprint Net taxable income (we pay 43.6% now):

Year One:      14.2%
     [Lower than the projected Federal rate of 25% because of exports and other adjustments]
Year Two:      51.8%
Year Three:   89.5%
Year Four:     127.2%
year Five:      164.9%

Does that look appealing to you?  So we'll live two extra years, but will face a tax-induced cash squeeze beginning in year two.  That's when we start raising prices.  Do you like inflation?

This proposal presumes you would prefer to slowly be asphyxiated rather than shot through the heart.

Other relevant points that expose the thin thinking of Mr. Brady:

a.  No proof that the Dollar will save us.  This proposal ignores the FACT that no one can attest to the direction of the dollar.  The premise of this scheme is that the skyrocketing dollar will protect everyone from inflation.  There is zero reason to believe this, and no one would take the bait at the May 23rd hearing, either.

Mr. Brady thinks we're napping here.

b.   Foreign-sourced content in goods made overseas will make costs RISE.  The content or components imported by foreign manufacturers will rise in cost even as costs for locally-sourced content will fall under this scheme.  We believe a rising dollar ELEVATES our import costs.

c.   The phase-in of the BAT only enhances the probability of WTO lawsuits and retaliation. The illegality of the scheme isn't changed by Mr. Brady's proposal, and the delay in implementing it will only give our trading partners more time to organize to sink us.

d.   Trade wars with critical trading partners will almost certainly be sparked.  The handouts to U.S. exporters, which cannot be compared to the so-called border adjustment in VAT jurisdictions, will almost immediately lead to retaliation by big trading partners.  The BAT will quickly make U.S. companies a more volatile customer base for foreign manufacturers, intensifying the urge to retaliate.

e.   A revenue-neutral "tax cut" is not a tax cut, it is a reallocation of tax burden.  The government still intends to kill importers, but is content to do it over time.  The proposal does not address the fact that 97% of importers are small businesses.  This phase-in only spreads the pain of the shifting tax burden over a few years before it kills all importers or sparks an inflationary firestorm.  Every other outcome is PURE speculation.

f.   Turnarounds will still die under the revised BAT proposal.  Weak importers will still see taxable income miraculously appear, even in year one.  Think about all the retailers struggling to stay alive right now. Gymboree went bankrupt this week, and retailer Ascena said they would close 600 Dress Barn, Ann Taylor and Lane Bryant stores.  Money-losing importers have taxable income when COGS is added back to their losses.  So they will owe taxes in losing years.  Close more stores so you can pay Mr. Brady!

g.   VAT systems still don't prejudice U.S. manufacturers.   This fact is well-known but Brady prefers to keep lying to preserve his faulty plan.

If the BAT was rejected by thoughtful Members of Congress, so will BAT 2.0.  Give up, Mr. Ryan and Mr. Brady.  You will either lose your vote or lose your jobs.  This is the wrong place to draw a line in the sand.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Last Days of the BAT???

Wither the Border Adjustment Tax?  Wither indeed.

As noted in this space several times, and fairly obvious to everyone following this issue closely except for two people, the Border Adjustment Tax proposal is nearing its just demise.  There is nowhere to turn, and only a concession by Ryan and Brady stands between us and rationality.

On June 9th, Rep. Jim Jordan published an Op-Ed in The Washington Examiner entitled "America-first tax reform begins with dismissing a border adjustment tax".  This article is being seen as the official position of the Freedom Caucus, an independent group of 30 or more Republican members of Congress (the exact list is not known).  You may recall that the Freedom Caucus did a lot of damage to Paul Ryan's efforts to repeal Obamacare.  They tend to vote as a bloc.  This means there are officially more than 30 "no" votes out there, plus others who have stated a negative position.  On Ways and Means alone, Reps. Paulsen, Tiberi, Renacci and Kelly have all publicly stated opposition or very strong concerns.  The path to law in the House is dead.

And in the Senate, no realistic tax reform fantasy can include "turning" the BAT opposition of Senators Cotton, Graham and Perdue into "yeses".  So it's not getting through the Senate.

As predicted many times in this space, the power vacuum of Trump/Ryan is encouraging more Republicans to chart their own course.  The prediction was a gradual breakdown of the Republican pack with defectors leading to more defectors. The approach of Midterms has only hastened this process.

Are the House Republicans so dense that they can't see that the BAT stands between them and tax reform?  Happily, I can say with confidence that they aren't that dense.  In fact, they are starting to speak about it, out loud even.  The WSJ reports that pressure is finally being applied UP by House Republicans against Ryan and Brady to ditch their pet idea and move toward something more realistic and likely to be the basis of a new tax law.  My conversations with folks on the Hill confirms that conversations are being had, and the obvious being stated aloud for the right ears to hear.  There are even signs that these pleas are being heard.  You never heard me say that before.

Sadly, the real problem is that Ryan won't accept a plan unless it's revenue-neutral.  This is quite unfortunate, and may result in his political downfall if he doesn't give up the ghost.  "Revenue-neutral" is when a tax cut isn't a tax cut, but only burden shifting among taxpayers.  The correct approach is deficit-neutral, namely reducing tax revenues being matched by reduced governmental expenditures.  Oddly, in a town where advocating the devastation of health care for millions seems to be just fine (explain that to me, please), no one in Washington will speak of attacking other larger entitlements, even if done in a fair and forward-looking manner.  Those plans exist and will not endanger Seniors.

If Ryan won't consider deficit-neutral, there is little hope for tax reform.  It is hard to believe that Congress will be irresponsibly cut taxes without cutting expenses, leading to spirally deficits we may not survive. We are already looking too much like Greece and can't afford to make the comparison even more direct.

This is coming to a head, finally, and we should see news, important news, soon.  Keep your eyes peeled.  Help may be on the way.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Border Adjustment Tax Seems Impossible But Remains on Life Support

Despite holding a hearing May 23rd that built a strong record against the BAT, and which provided an opportunity for Republicans to openly oppose the plan, Brady and Ryan continue to coyly hold fast to their insistence on the BAT.  As noted in Bloomberg this week, this stubbornness is putting tax reform in doubt.

The pat explanation - that Ryan is a "wonk" - does not ring true to me.  Ryan is bright and is an accomplished politician, to say the least.  He is Speaker of the House and has been a Vice Presidential candidate.  It is hard to dismiss him with condescension.  So what is his gambit?

It's a good question.  Roll Call counts 30 House Republicans who have expressed serious doubts or opposition to the plan, plus at least 18 Republican Senators.  There is just NO WAY that this provision can pass out of Congress over that obstacle given the likelihood that the tax bill will get zero Democratic votes, and the more Members of Congress come out against the BAT, the safer it is for others to go public with their reservations.  This headcount of Republican resistance is a major degradation of where Brady and Ryan were just weeks ago.  The well-financed and supremely well-organized Americans for Affordable Products coalition is providing unrelenting and effective resistance to the BAT, keeping the headlines and Op-Eds flowing.  The pressure will not relent.  I do not see a credible plan to raise the BAT from the dead.

That said, The Hill reports that Senator Orrin Hatch, the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, doesn't rule it out.  He previously said that he had "real reservations" about the plan and knows well that he lacks the necessary votes given the strong opposition of several Senators who are unlikely to come back to the fold (Perdue, Cotton and Graham).  Notably, the White House has also stated its opposition to the BAT. This appears to leave little room for a Second Coming.

While it seems like a good guess that the BAT is being saved as a "trade" later, even that seems far fetched because you can't get much value for something has no value.  Ryan and Brady lack credibility when it comes to forcing the plan into law, and thus have little leverage in a trade.

This all seems like politics, and that's the worry.  Hatch's warning that the BAT could spring back to life is the Doomsday scenario - a back room sellout at the last minute, out of public view.  While this in the nightmare, it seems less and less likely as the machinery of Midterms are coming on fast.  Notably, today's election results in the U.K. hint that the worldwide fever that propelled people like Trump into office is passing fast.  Supporting something as drastic and reckless as the BAT gets more politically hazardous every day.  And the delay in passing any portion of the Trump agenda means that whatever anger it would or will engender has less and less time to pass.  It all adds up to voter anger.  And as everyone knows, there are (many) other reasons for voter anger at the polls in 2018. Not a pretty picture for Republican prospects in 2018.

If the Republicans have any hope of demonstrating they are able to govern, they will need to drop the BAT and move on to something else soon, long before the 2018 Midterms.  The BAT has to go, but the decision to kill it rests with Ryan and to a lesser extent, Brady. Stand by but please keep the pressure on.  They need to feel the heat every day until they cave.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Border Adjustment Tax - So Where Are We?

It's tempting after last week's hearing to declare the BAT dead.  The hearing featured some very damaging testimony, and if you think that actually matters, it is hard to see how House Republicans could muster a vote in favor of the BAT with that testimony available for midterm election commercials. In choosing to have this hearing, the Republicans built the record against their own (stupid) idea.  This hearing certainly didn't convince any wavering Senators to come over to the Dark Side.

Among the hearing highlights were:

a.  The previously posted question by Rep. Jim Renacci about assurance that the dollar will adjust as predicted.  The rogue's gallery of Republican witnesses would not give that assurance. Brian Cornell, CEO of Target, helpfully openly admitted that no such assurance was possible. [Cornell was a star in the hearing.]  This question (by a Republican Congressman) crushed the Brady currency argument, and shamed the august economists who have been making unsupportable promises about the dollar saving the day for the BAT.  Smug economists have treated us all like idiots for months, but when push came to shove, no one was willing to stand up in defense of the ridiculous theory. Notably, Democratic witness and economist Kimberly Clausing of Reed College pointed out that in 75% of the cases where a country with a floating exchange rate adopted a VAT, the currency moved the wrong direction.  Oops!

b.   Most of the Republican witnesses persisted in their "correlation is causation" arguments, which rang hollow in large part because they made no sense.  The consistent theme was the simpleminded assertion that (name your economic gripe) was created by the "broken" tax system. Even Lawrence Lindsey was prone to this hyperbole.  The CEO of ADM even asserted that declining sales of his commodities was due to our tax system.  He should be embarrassed for stooping this low.

c.    Devin Nunes continued to parrot the party line (as did Peter Roskam, the other Brady attack dog at the hearing).  In this case, he repeated the nonsensical observation that "Iraq, Syria, North Korea and Mali" don't have VATs, hence we're nuts to not grab the VAT idea while we can.  Among the objections raised to this "insight" was the fact that the BAT is not a VAT, and no conclusions can therefore be reached by Nunes' absurd oibservation.  Rep.  Doggett pointed to the esteemed economies of Estonia and Latvia which have VATs but have not shown great growth.  This counter-argument seemed to have as much impact of Nunes'.

d.   Rep. Sanford Levin made some very strong points, such as the fact that we have lost WTO cases in the past that relate to proposed taxes like the BAT.  He also took issue with the notion that economic ills are directly traceable to tax systems, pointing to labor arbitrage as a big driver of moving jobs overseas.


He also noted that everyone pays corporate income tax in their home country, hence an actual level playing field.

e.   Although no one took on the tedious mathematics of VATs, the urban myth of profiting from border adjustments was repeated but with little impact.

Notably, Rep. Erik Paulsen came out explicitly against the BAT.  With Rep. Kelly and Renacci on record against it, the Republican "no" votes on this bill seem to make it impossible to move forward.  Paulsen's move seems particularly portentous, so much so that it suggests that Brady and Ryan were trying to set up a shift in position through Paulsen.  I say this because Paulsen is a very close associate of Brady, and one wonders how Paulsen could take such a contrary and embarrassing position right in front of his patron and friend if it were not cleared in advance.  And if he did clear his plan with Brady, then Brady may finally be ready to trade this awful proposal away.

The question is when.  Given the chaos in the White House and disarray on several fronts in Congress owing to many factors, including the distraction of meltdown in the Trump agenda, Brady is said to be unsure of what happens next.  He is rumored to hold the BAT as a fallback position when nothing else works.  I wonder if this is credible in any way after this hearing.  In my opinion, he can't overcome the record now.

Other rumors suggest that Brady and Ryan are prepared to trade the BAT for a modified territorial tax system wherein foreign profits would taxed at lower levels than today, but not at zero.  This would raise replacement revenue in some amount to replace the prospect of the BAT revenues. A modified territorial system would be better than nothing at all, and no business would suffer at the relaxing of this tax (the savings are less than a total removal of the tax, but something is better than nothing, right?).

As long as Brady and Ryan are prepared to sustain the notion that the BAT has a chance of becoming law, we cannot give up our opposition.  That said, it seems like it's just a matter of time now. Let's keep pushing and hopefully, Brady and Ryan will eventually concede that there have better things to do with their time than push for this terrible tax.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Border Adjustment Tax Clips - May 25, 2017

Bloomberg:  Former Ex-Im Chairman Says Border Tax Not Happening  5-25-17

Foreign Affairs:  A Tale of Two Tax Plans  5-24-17

The Hill:  Border-adjustment tax proposal at death’s door  5-24-17

Vox:   Nobody likes the border adjustment tax — except the House Republicans who won't let it go 5-24-17

EPR Retail News:  The Border Adjustment Tax Would Jeopardize 42 Million Jobs Retailers Currently  Support  5-24-17

Fox Business:   Sen. Toomey: "Going to end up without having much of a [BAT]"  5-24-17

Bloomberg:  Ryan Isn't Folding on Border Tax, Says He's Talking About It  5-24-17

Bloomberg:  Mnuchin Tells Democrats No Go on Border Tax in Private Meeting  5-24-17

Axios:  Speaker Ryan on if Tax Reform Is possible w/o BAT: "Of Course" 5-23-17

Washington Free Beacon:  Business Owners Tout Tax Reform but Some Oppose Border-Adjustment Tax  5-24-17

Fox BusinessHouse GOP Tries to Keep Border-Adjusted Tax Alive 5-23-17

PoliticoCentral pillar of House tax reform plan draws friendly fire  5-23-17

Bloomberg:  Mnuchin Cites Border-Tax Concern as House Panel Seeks Tweaks  5-23-17

TheStreetMnuchin Puts Kibosh on Border Tax as House Debates Measure  5-23-17

The Hill:  Hearing highlights GOP divide over border tax  5-23-17

Star-TelegramTarget CEO tells Congress that GOP’s proposed import tax would hurt his customers  5-23-17

NY Times:  Border Tax’s Apparent Demise Jeopardizes G.O.P. Overhaul Plan  5-23-17

Washington Post:  GOP divisions grow over proposal for a border adjustment tax  5-23-17

BloombergTarget CEO Says Border Tax Could Hurt American Families  5-23-17

WSJ:  House GOP Tries to Keep Border-Adjusted Tax Alive  5-23-17

Politico:  Central pillar of House tax reform plan draws friendly fire  5-23-17

The Dallas Morning News:   House GOP tries to rally support for border tax proposal that's divided Texas' business community  5-23-17

Tampa Bay Business Journal:   Target, Beall's, other retailers speak out against border tax 5-23-17

Washington Examiner:   Border adjustment tax proponents struggle to prevent more Republican defections 5-23-17

Morning Consult:   Challenges Facing Border Tax Plan on Display at Ways and Means Hearing 5-23-17

CNBC:  Mnuchin: BAT Doesn’t Create Level Playing Field  5-23-17

E&E News:  Lawmakers to debate border adjustment plan  5-22-17 

US News & World ReportBorder Adjustment Tax Faces Uphill Battle  5-22-17  Texas businessman (and friend) flies to DC to oppose Kevin Brady's border tax plan  5-22-17

The News & Observer:  This small business owner says he can’t survive a Republican plan to tax imports  5-22-17

Fayetteville Observer:  A border tax will hurt business here  5-20-17

Weekly Standard:  The Right Cure  5-20-17

The Leader:  Border Adjustment Tax will harm Texas consumer economy  5-19-17

Wall Street Journal:  Key Republicans Change Stance on Trump  5-19-17 

Convenience Store Decisions:  NRF Fights Consumption Tax Proposal  5-18-17

Fox Business:  Jim Jordan on BAT: "I don't think that's what Republicans are about"  5-18-17

The Ledger:  A Polk Perspective: Border Adjustment Tax would be devastating to Florida  5-18-17

World Trade Online:  Brady touts border-adjustable tax in House GOP plan; Mnuchin skeptical  5-18-17

Politico:  Kochs boost Trump tax plan  5-18-17

Law360:  GOP Has No Tax Plan B Without Border Adjustment, Rep. Says  5-18-17

Bloomberg:  Sen. Perdue on what tax reform should really focus on  5-17-17

CNBC:  Rep. Kustoff has concerns on BAT  5-17-17

Chicago Tribune:  Trump support in Congress shows signs of crumbling  5-17-17

Politico ProWall Street gives up on a 2017 tax overhaul  5-17-17

The HillHouse GOP not sold on Ryan’s tax reform plan  5-16-17

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Can Anyone Assure Us that Currency Adjustment Will Eliminate Cost Impact on Consumers? NOPE.

Congressman Jim Renacci had an interesting question today at the BAT hearing:

RENACCI: “So to each witness, can any of you assure me that the currency will adjust so that there will be no effect to the cost of our consumers? Yes or no to each one of you.”

CORNELL: “No, I can’t.”

LINDSEY & SIMON: Silent. (U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Hearing, 5/23/17)

Border Adjustment Tax Hearing by House Ways and Means Committee May 23, 2017

Monday, May 22, 2017

AAP Fact-checked House Ways and Means "Communication Document" for May 23rd Hearing

The Americans for Affordable Products coalition did some homework to prepare the Ways and Means Committee for tomorrow's hearing.  See their memo below and definitely check out the linked document:


To: House Ways and Means Committee

From: Americans for Affordable Products

Date: May 22, 2017

Re: Fact Checking “Communications Document for May 23 Tax Hearing”

Last week, the House Ways and Means Committee released a document to its members providing guidance for their May 23, 2017 hearing on the Border Adjustment Tax (BAT) called “Increasing U.S. Competitiveness and Preventing American Jobs from Moving Overseas: Communication’s Document for May 23 Tax Hearing.”

Unfortunately, the Committee got it wrong by misrepresenting the truth about the BAT and taking out context statements made by companies who oppose it.

A corrected version can be found here: “Increasing the Tax Burden on Working Families So Some Profitable, Multi-National Companies Operate Tax Free: Communications Document for the May 23 Tax Hearing.”

Please consider using the content in this document as you prepare for tomorrow’s hearing.

Hearing on How Tax Reform Will Grow Our Economy and Create Jobs (Ways and Means Committee Hearing on May 18)

How to Watch the Ways and Means Tax Policy Subcommittee BAT Hearing at 10 AM EST on May 23, 2017

Peter Roskam's Tax Policy Subcommittee will be hosting a hearing at 10 AM EST on the subject of the Border Adjustment Tax.  It is misleadingly named "Hearing on Increasing U.S Competitiveness and Preventing American Jobs from Moving Overseas".  What else do you expect?

The witnesses include:

Juan Luciano
President and Chief Executive Officer, Archer Daniels Midland Company

Brian Cornell
Board Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Target Corporation

William Simon
Former President and Chief Executive Officer, Walmart U.S.

Lawrence B. Lindsey
President and CEO, The Lindsey Group

Kimberly Clausing
Thormund A. Miller and Walter Mintz Professor of Economics, Reed College

You can watch the hearing live HERE.  I will post the video afterwards.

It will be interesting if there is any sign of listening going on.  The Americans for Affordable Products coalition will be releasing a barrage of materials throughout the day.

My Statement on Border Adjustment Tax for May 23rd Tax Policy Subcommittee Hearing

Statement of Richard Woldenberg on Border Adjustment Tax

Submitted to the Subcommittee on Tax Policy
of the House Committee on Ways and Means
The United States House of Representatives

May 23, 2017

My name is Richard Woldenberg, and I am CEO of Learning Resources, Inc. located in Vernon Hills, Illinois. I am submitting this testimony on behalf of our company. Our company is a family business which develops and markets educational products and educational toys in the United States and dozens of other countries.  We outsource the manufacturing of our products overseas, and as a result, we are a significant importer (of our own products) into the United States. 

We have grave concerns about the Border Adjustment tax proposal being considered by the House Ways and Means Committee as originally described in the “A Better Way” plan.  The proposal is rife with risk and unintended consequences. I fear that the future of our company, and the jobs we provide, are at stake.  We are a small business under the Federal government definition and believe that the problems we will face under the Border Adjustment tax proposal will be experienced by thousands of other small business importers in the United States.

Our Company

Learning Resources, Inc. (LR) was founded in 1984 and is located in Vernon Hills, Illinois and has about 150 employees in the U.S. and U.K.  The company is part of our family business group which turned 100 years old in 2016; I am in the third generation of my family to run this business, and we were proud to welcome the first member of the fourth generation into our business this year.  LR develops and markets proprietary educational toys and materials in Vernon Hills but manufactures its 1400 products overseas.  Jobs at our company pay well, turnover is low and we are an important part of our community, injecting many millions of salary and benefit dollars into the local economy annually.  In 2013 and again in 2016, LR tried and failed to find U.S. molders interested in making our products here. In other words, we know from recent experience that we have no realistic option to make our products in the U.S., with or without the incentive of a reconceived Federal tax regime.  

The Issues Created by Border Adjustment Tax (BAT):

1.      We will become the involuntary subject of an historic exchange rate experiment.  The BAT plan is unprecedented in U.S. history and its effects are unknown and unknowable.  The plan is premised on a surging dollar that erases import costs. Betting the U.S. economy on a rising dollar is irresponsible – we shouldn’t confuse being “bold” with being reckless.  Tax policy based on presumed changes in the value of the U.S. dollar is simply gambling.  We cannot afford tax policy based on hunches, regardless of the resumes of those who pound the table promising dollar nirvanas.

Economists Auerbach and Holtz-Eakin assert that U.S. dollar appreciation after implementation of the BAT will reduce importers’ Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) enough to pay the new Federal tax bill. This is the basis of the contention that the plan simply “levels the playing field” without affecting cash flows. The economists offer little more than bland assurances, however.

The plan’s flaws are manifest:

-          Congress can’t accurately predict the course and direction of financial markets and hence can’t be certain of future exchange rates.  What if the predictions of massive U.S. dollar appreciation are wrong?  What if the changes are smaller or larger than expected, or arrive later, or fade over time? After all, foreign exchange markets are massive, and dominated by large pools of capital not tied to trade.  Tax policy is hardly the only factor which drives exchange rates. Interestingly, economists have given a name to the inability to predict exchange rates:  The Exchange Rate Disconnect Puzzle.  See

-          The cost of imported goods will always include foreign content.  For instance, foreign-made clothing often includes U.S. cotton or U.S. thread.  Toys made in China often use imported plastics, paper or wood.  Oil and gasoline are also foreign inputs. Foreign inputs rise in cost as the dollar rises, while only local content falls in cost. Our factories estimate 30-65% of our product cost is foreign-sourced.  This means that our factories’ overall costs will likely RISE when the dollar rises.  The economists’ assertion of cost savings is illusory.

-          Dollar-denominated costs are the norm for U.S. importers.  As the dollar rises, dollar-based costs don’t decline – they are fixed by contract.  Realizing savings will require a line-by-line renegotiation of our entire business, essentially a zero-sum game with our factories.  Factories may well refuse to cooperate with any effort to ratchet down dollar-based costs.  In any event, cost reductions required to balance out the BAT will be epic and FAR beyond any cost reduction achievement in our company history.  To fund the BAT, we will need to lower costs by as much as 19% which is frankly absurd.  This cost savings is presumed by supporters of the BAT, but it’s entirely unrealistic.

-          We believe there are other risks to the exchange rate scheme, including resistance by other countries (in the form of currency manipulation or interest rate changes). There is no guarantee that the dollar will move equally in all markets, for any number of reasons, so there is likewise no guarantee that costs will actually decline. We also believe we will be subject to significant changes in the terms of our bank line of credit owing to novel currency risks imposed by the BAT.  Instability in bank financing could be devastating for many companies.

Unlike the 1986 Reagan tax plan, the BAT has no fallback position.  If the Reagan plan didn’t work, the Federal government had the option to raise tax rates and no company would have been damaged.  Under the BAT, corporate restructuring for many businesses seems inevitable and significant job losses likely.  If the theory behind the BAT doesn’t hold, Congress will not be able to resurrect the companies killed by the BAT.  Humpty-Dumpty can’t be put together again.  Policy makers should not take such risks with American livelihoods.

2.      The BAT will likely trigger a highly-regressive inflationary firestorm.   When it becomes clear that importers will have no realistic way to capture sufficient cost savings to pay the enormous increase in taxes caused by the BAT, there will be no choice but to pass the costs along to consumers. And of course, consumers always bear the cost and consequences of tax increases like the BAT.  We estimate that costs will ultimately rise as much as 20% under the BAT.

The mechanism for the price hike is being demonstrated in the U.K. right now.  The collapse in the value of the British Pound from $1.50 (on the evening of the Brexit vote) to a recent low of $1.21 mimics the inflationary pressures likely created by BAT-induced dollar appreciation. Sharply rising U.K. consumer prices from import cost inflation strongly suggests that consumer inflation will naturally occur here under the BAT.  Like a value-added tax, this rise in consumer costs will be regressive in nature and strike hardest the most vulnerable in our economy.  A large population of defenseless constituents will find their standard of living slipping into decline post-BAT.

For example, see these news reports of U.K. price hikes:

 (Brexit price shocks hits consumer products) (Battle between retailers and suppliers over cost of the British Pound decline) (UK bike manufacturer may raise prices because of currency-related supply chain cost increases)  (Ford, et. al., raises car prices because of component costs in locally-made cars).

3.      The BAT will almost certainly spark trade wars.  Economists supporting the BAT confidently predict an “immediate” 25% appreciation in the U.S. dollar after the BAT is implemented (based on a 20% Federal tax rate for “C” Corps).  Simple math indicates that this translates into a British Pound at parity (the lowest exchange rate ever), the Euro at $.80 (near its all-time low of $.70 in 1985), and almost certainly a broken peg for the Hong Kong Dollar and other key currencies tied to the dollar. Such sharp U.S. dollar appreciation can be expected to devastate U.S. exports. The theory that the BAT will stimulate export sales seems dubious in light of a skyrocketing dollar, and therefore the value of the BAT tax holiday on export sales is of limited value.

The likely financial impact of this Congress-induced currency manipulation certainly seems calamitous. It seems delusional to believe that other countries will simply sit idly by and let the United States inflict this kind of harm on their economies.  Consider Canada as an example.  Canada was the third largest exporter to the U.S. in 2016, with total exports of $278 Billion.  The BAT on that flow will be approximately $56 Billion, half the projected annual “take” under the BAT.  Some estimates indicate that 75% of Canadians live within 100 miles of the U.S. border.  Consider the impact of that tax on the Canadian economy and the population living near the U.S.  Will Canada elect to just “take it”? No chance. Add to this the fact that Canada also imported $266 Billion from the U.S.  The BAT will give American exporters a significant edge in competing with Canadian suppliers by eliminating income tax.  Canada will get it coming and going under the BAT.  I am sure Canadian legislators will quickly find inspiration to give the Americans a taste of their own medicine.

It is implausible that these effects will be ignored.  To seriously entertain the notion that other countries won’t find ways to retaliate is to engage in happy talk.

4.      Preventing inversions but opening up other gaping tax loopholes at the expense of our jobs and our company is unacceptable.  Eliminating the inequity of companies implementing tax gambits like inversions would make the U.S. tax system fairer, certainly. We feel the pain because we pay a far higher tax rate (43.6%) on our worldwide pretax income as an Illinois-based “S” Corp. We do not shop internationally for low tax rate jurisdictions. We believe we are typical of American small businesses. While it may be galling that some taxpayers pay much less, unjust enrichment of others does not actually make us poorer.  It is even MORE galling, however, to know that we are being asked to sacrifice our businesses so large highly-profitable mega-corporations can be excused from paying any tax under the BAT. That’s even more unfair than the current situation and will outrage ordinary taxpayers once they realize what has happened.  We would be much better off if Congress did nothing.

5.      We are a Small Business job creator but our job creation engine will be eviscerated by the BAT.  Our products were developed by Americans in the United States, our intellectual property is owned in this country, and we created about 150 jobs by developing a market for our educational products.  We are not ashamed of our decades-long record of helping American kids learn and American families improve their standard of living with products that we make offshore.  If we must nevertheless reorganize to fund the BAT, however, we will be incentivized to eliminate as many high paying jobs as possible – we will recapture 75 cents for each dollar of expense eliminated at the new tax rate.  Investments in automation will become much more attractive – and will be immediately deductible under “A Better Way” plan. How does the BAT create enough jobs to compensate for job losses like these all over the country?

Notably, 97% of U.S. importers are Small Businesses, according U.S. Census data from 2014.  The average import value per annum per congressional district is about $1.5 billion from Small Business alone, meaning that each district will pay $300 million in extra taxes under the BAT.  The annual import value (2015) for the U.S. Small Business community - $631 billion ( – would fully fund the projected $1.2 trillion ten-year revenue raised by the BAT.  In other words, the BAT is a Small Business tax.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were more than 191,000 small business importers in 2015 in the United States.  That’s a lot of small business jobs at risk under this proposal.

6.      Long-promised lower Federal corporate tax rates will not translate into lower tax bills under the BAT.  Despite the expected 25% rate for “S” Corps under “A Better Way”, our company’s Federal tax bill is expected to increase by 4-5x. Based on our actual 2016 results, we project paying a 165% tax bill at the 25% rate for “S” Corps. The negative impact of BAT math intensifies as Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) grows as a percentage of sales. In other words, the tax is regressive in the corporate community, by pinching the lowest margin companies most deeply.  

Notably, importers will face giant tax bills even in years when they are losing money. This is simple math – importers might have no GAAP earnings but high imported COGS, and thereby will generate a huge Federal tax bill with no money to pay it.  Does the House Committee on Ways and Means want such companies to die quickly? We believe that companies facing financial difficulties or going through a turnaround will shed jobs in droves post-BAT just to survive, or simply go out of business.  The BAT will lead to death by Federal taxes.

7.      The shift of tax base from GAAP earnings will create great risk for companies and unpredictable tax outcomes.  We finance our business based on predicted cash flows.  Taxes under American law have always been a fraction of earnings, which facilitates planning and certainty.  As an importer under the BAT plan, our Federal tax bill will greatly exceed our GAAP earnings, and our ability to pay will depend on various factors largely out of our control. Planning and certainty are no longer possible. If we fail to capture savings from dollar appreciation for any reason (meaning that we must sharply reduce our product costs, bring the inventory in, sell it at unprecedented profit margins and collect the cash, all in time to fund a quadrupled tax bill) we will either incur losses to pay taxes or have to restructure our business to survive.  We don’t know what our business looks like under these conditions.

8.      Foreign VAT systems do not put American products at a disadvantage. The BAT purportedly addresses a longstanding disadvantage created by foreign value-add tax systems (VAT). This is an urban myth. In fact, VAT is a tax paid by consumers in lieu of personal income tax.  The BAT is a corporate income tax, not a personal income tax substitute. This is apples-and-oranges. VAT is paid in full by the last buyer in the chain of commerce, the consumer. No one pays anything in the chain other than the consumer by definition under a VAT. Foreign corporations pay tax on their earnings just as we do in this country (corporate income tax).  U.S. tax treaties ensure that no corporate profit dollar is taxed twice. [The fact that U.S. corporate tax rates are the third highest in the world, behind the U.A.E. and Chad, is probably the root cause of inversions, not the “attractiveness” of VATs.]  VAT does not convey advantage to anyone.

Second, the VAT “border adjustment” on export is simply a governmental rebate of excess tax receipts to the company that paid the taxes.  It is not a subsidy. This is a mathematical fact, but we also know this from personal experience. Since 1994 we have operated a company in the U.K. and export from the European Union regularly.  If VAT border rebates were actually an export subsidy as has been alleged, we would have been receiving this subsidy since 1994.  Although we produce audited financials for our U.K. business, there is no line in those financials for VAT revenues or VAT profits.  There is no such thing. Large multinational corporations have been chirping about the “unfairness” of VAT border adjustments in support of the BAT, but notably they are also significant exporters from VAT jurisdictions.  If it is possible to profit from VAT, as they assert, they themselves must be receiving this subsidy.  The Committee should request information on the benefits large multinationals have received over the last 20 years under VAT tax regimes.  Such requests will be greeted with silence.

Finally, the assertion that VAT border adjustment is unfair to Americans is implausible given the careful scrutiny given to trade disputes under GATT. Since 1947, the U.S. has been involved in 379 cases at the WTO either as a plaintiff, defendant or other participant.  That’s a major WTO lawsuit involving the U.S. approximately every two months for 70 years. If VAT “border adjustments” have been so prejudicial to American exporters since 1947, why hasn’t it been litigated by the United States?  Such a serious charge deserves much greater scrutiny.

Financial Models:  I have attached model financials for two hypothetical toycompanies, one with gross margins of 38% (yellow highlights) and one with gross margins of 25% (orange highlights).  The 25% gross margin company operates on lower expenses to make similar money (for instance, they might be a “make-to-order” company without a warehouse).  Both companies are modeled with simplifying assumptions under the BAT, focusing on the impact of the loss of the COGS deduction. Both companies are modeled as an Illinois-based “S” Corp with steady State taxes.

There are four scenarios presented for each company:  (A) current tax law, (B) “A Better Way” Blueprint, (C) Post-ABW (details below), and (D) Economists Optimistic Scenario (details below).  Scenarios C and D are essentially opposite scenarios.  Scenario D illustrates what economists predict, namely that companies will capture COGS savings from U.S. dollar appreciation to fully pay their new BAT tax bills. Scenario C models what happens when companies capture none of the predicted currency benefits, leaving the model companies no choice but to raise prices (up 34%) and reduce expenses (down 20%) to preserve their financial results. This response will also trigger an immediate sharp decline in sales (down 40% in units).  These two scenarios produce the same cash flow as the current law scenario (A) but only with major operational changes. None of scenarios B, C or D are better than the status quo for the model companies, or our company, or the thousands of similarly-situated companies all over the United States. 

I would like to draw your attention to the relationship of Payroll expense to net taxable income in the models.  Payroll expense (jobs) is much greater than pre-tax profit in most companies.  The true social impact of independent businesses stems from their payroll expenses (in other words, jobs, jobs, jobs). This is certainly the case for multi-generational family businesses like ours which are the bedrock of communities through good times and bad.  But the BAT threatens payrolls at small business importers. Consider how much Federal taxes increase in the new plan (B v. A) despite the reduction in rate from 39.6% to 25%. The Federal tax bill skyrockets.  In the examples here, the Federal tax bill goes up between 8.1x and 11.4x. [A more thorough modeling against our actual financials shows taxes rising between 4-5x over today’s 39.6% Federal tax bill.] Clearly new Federal taxes will endanger payroll expenses (jobs). Is this what taxpayers want? 

It is important to note that in the examples here, the model companies must recover 24% of COGS, presumably through resetting dollar contracts after the dollar appreciates by the promised 25%. That’s a fantasy of massive and unachievable savings. We are ecstatic if we can shave 1% off our COGS in any given year. Suspending disbelief, please consider what this asserted exchange rate value transfer means to the guy on the other side of the trade (our vendors).  The BAT proposal will suck wealth from every country in the world over to the U.S.  By manipulation of the Federal income tax code, Congress will thus force us to become the agent which lands this big wealth transfer . . . all so we can hand it over to Uncle Sam. Not a very appealing prospect, especially because it must be played out against our long-time, trusted vendor partners.  This will devastate critical business relationships. Shaking down our supply chain to pay a huge increase in Federal taxes means we become the government’s shills.  This is obviously bad tax policy.

No matter how the BAT is spun by the talking heads, no one is going to miss the point that importer tax bills are going to multiply under the BAT.  As more business owners and their accountants do the math, and realize that they face unimaginable tax burdens never seen since the institution of the Federal Income Tax system in 1913, they will rise up against the politicians who devised the plan.  The voters’ anger will only mount as job losses pile up and prices rise.

There must be another, better way to fix the tax system in this country, and it is Congress’ responsibility to find it. Thank you for considering my views.

Border Adjustment Clips May 22, 2017

Washington Examiner:  GOP's controversial import tax plan gets a hearing  5-16-17

Tampa Bay Times:  Border tax would hit consumers hard  5-16-17

Columbus Dispath:  Speaker Ryan, Drop the Border Adjustment Tax  5-10-17

Washington Times:  The ‘Made in America’ tax myth  5-9-17

Washington Times:  Trump must battle BAT  5-7-17