Obama Offers 'Grand Bargain' On Corporate Taxes

On Tuesday, President Obama pitched an idea to lower corporate income tax rates, if Republicans in Congress agree to his jobs bill. It was the latest move in the ongoing match that will culminate with this autumn's budget deadlines.

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President Obama is offering Congress what he describes as a grand bargain on corporate taxes. He laid out the terms in Chattanooga, Tenn., yesterday on the latest stop of his national economic speaking tour.

NPR's Ari Shapiro was on the trip.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: The setting for this event was what Amazon calls a fulfillment center, a warehouse with endless shelves full of testosterone-boosting pills, zumba DVDs, and all of the other random stuff that people buy on the Internet.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)

SHAPIRO: President Obama walked down rows of conveyor belts as boxes slid down the line, getting stamped and sealed for shipment.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You don't miss a beat. I mean, you've got these packages coming out, and you've got dog food and Kindles...

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: ...and beard trimmers.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: I mean, there's all kinds of stuff around here.

SHAPIRO: After his tour, the president spoke to about 2,000 Amazon employees. He said it's great that they deliver stuff all over the country, but he believes the federal government can make their job easier.

OBAMA: And how quickly, and how dependably, it gets to the customer depends on - do we have good roads? Do we have good bridges? Do we have state-of-the-art airports?

SHAPIRO: President Obama has talked for years about improving American infrastructure. Yesterday, he proposed a specific way to pay for it. He said he wants to lower corporate tax rates, and close loopholes in the corporate tax code. That's something Republicans have wanted for a while.

The base corporate tax rate would drop from 35 to 28 percent, and manufacturers would get a special 25 percent rate. U.S. companies would pay a fee on foreign profits. The net result would be more tax money for the federal government.

OBAMA: I want to use some of the money that we save by closing these loopholes to create more good construction jobs with infrastructure initiatives that I already talked about.

SHAPIRO: Obama also wants to spend some of the money on community colleges and other programs that he says will help the middle-class. The White House described this as a grand bargain, a bipartisan proposal that both parties could get behind.

OBAMA: I'm willing to work with Republicans on reforming our corporate tax code, as long as we use the money from transitioning to a simpler tax system for a significant investment in creating middle-class jobs. That's the deal.

SHAPIRO: But Republicans say no deal.

SEN. PAT TOOMEY: Sometimes it just seems that this administration never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity to grow this economy.

SHAPIRO: Pat Toomey is a Republican senator from Pennsylvania. He says changes to the corporate tax code are urgent, but those changes must be revenue-neutral - that is, they can't leave the government with extra money for infrastructure or anything else.

TOOMEY: We don't need more tax increases, so I certainly hope the president will change his mind on this. The last thing we need at this point is another tax increase, which will inevitably hit the middle-class and prevent us from having the kind of recovery we should be having.

SHAPIRO: Republicans also insist on changing the tax code for individuals at the same time as corporations. Otherwise, they argue that family-owned businesses will suffer, since some of those businesses are taxed as individuals.

Rob Portman is a Republican Senator from Ohio.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN: So there has to be both individual tax reform simplification, a more competitive structure, and reform on the business side. We're prepared to work with the president on that. I thought we were making some pretty good progress, honestly.

SHAPIRO: A spokesman for John Boehner said the president obviously isn't serious, because the House speaker learned about this grand bargain from press reports. On Air Force One, Obama's press secretary Jay Carney said, actually, the White House called Boehner's staff the day before the rollout.

JAY CARNEY: The White House did reach out to Speaker Boehner's office, and as of about half an hour ago, had not hear back. And we reached out yesterday.

SHAPIRO: In Chattanooga, Obama insisted he'll keep trying.

OBAMA: I'm, you know, going to keep on throwing ideas out there, to see if something takes.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: I'm going to lay out my ideas to give the middle-class a better shot. But now it's time for Republicans to lay out their ideas.

SHAPIRO: He has said the same thing in each of his four economic speeches in the last week. So far, nothing appears to have changed.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, traveling with the president.

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