When it comes to proposed tax reform, the devil is always in the details. Some of the key components of the Clinton and Trump tax plans relating to international tax issues are as follows:
On the business tax front, Mr. Trump’s proposal lowers the corporate tax rate to 15% (from a maximum 35%), while Mrs. Clinton has no plan to change the U.S. corporate tax rate from its existing levels. Mrs. Clinton has also proposed a tax on high-frequency trading (at a currently unspecified rate). Mr. Trump has proposed a one-time 10% repatriation tax on all currently deferred overseas income that would allow U.S. entities to repatriate “trapped” foreign profits back to the U.S. at a reduced rate.
Despite the differences in rate proposals, neither plan revamps or changes the fundamental “worldwide” characteristic of the U.S. tax regime. Thus, under both plans, a U.S. corporation (or individual) would remain subject to U.S. tax on its worldwide income—albeit at potentially lower rates than currently in the event the Trump plan is enacted. As a result, neither plan eliminates the necessity of multiple returns, foreign tax credit calculations or U.S. reporting obligations that have significantly raised costs for U.S. businesses and individuals working overseas. Although Mr. Trump’s plan to allow a lowered tax rate on repatriated income helps U.S. entities with overseas income, it should be remembered these profits have already been taxed overseas, so his proposal effectively lowers the rate on a second level of tax. Finally, neither candidate’s plan appears to revise the existing foreign account reporting regime that has impacted the ability of U.S. businesses to work with foreign financial institutions.
One unaddressed question relates to existing, proposed and future regulations. One would expect Mrs. Clinton to follow the current trajectory of broad-reaching IRS regulations—for example, the current proposed regulations related to recharacterization of certain debt payments as equity. To the extent Mr. Trump limits additional regulations or the expansion of current regulations, his plan might again differ significantly from Mrs. Clinton’s—however, without any specific proposals, it is hard to determine as of yet.
Finally, any analysis and expectations related to these proposals should be tempered by a few key realities and insights. First, any proposed tax modifications are just that—proposals. Whoever wins the election will still find him or herself staring down the barrel of two houses of Congress that have historically been slow to enact significant tax reforms. Second, the inherent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) process to “score” certain tax proposals is sure to be given significant weight when it comes to drafting actual language and legislative text—when push comes to shove, many of the proposed revisions may be deemed too impactful or not impactful enough on the budget to garner support for passage.
While November 8th will provide some hints, the true test will come next January when the new President begins trying to turn his or her proposals into action.