Last January, when our documentary film, We're Not Broke, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, we were elated. The film's message about how multinational corporations are cheating the American people out of desperately needed tax revenue to the tune of $100 billion a year was sure to reach the masses. The night after it screened for the first time, we gathered around the television and watched President Obama's 2012 State of the Union address. Our jaws dropped. "No American company should be able to avoid paying its fair share of taxes by moving jobs and profits overseas," he said to a round of tepid congressional applause. "From now on, every multinational company should have to pay a basic minimum tax." It was as if our president had been at our film screening and was aghast from what he'd learned.
That speech was the last time we heard anything from The White House about making billion-dollar corporations pay their fair share. Obama campaigned in 2008 with the promise to close corporate tax loopholes. And as a U.S. senator from Illinois, he'd been a co-signer on Sen. Carl Levin's CUT Loopholes Act. But in his first four years as president, Obama made zero attempts to reign in the tax dodging of GE, Verizon, Apple, Pfizer or any of the biggest 300 companies that squirrel profits offshore to avoid paying income tax to the U.S. Treasury. While multinational corporations experienced record profits, the American people suffered a recession that rivaled the great depression.
Last year saw the most public light ever shed tax inequality, with a big part of the Occupy Wall St. movement devoted to calling out tax dodgers. Still, Washington remained silent on changing the broken system. In mid-December, CEOs of the biggest multinationals came to the White House for closed-door meetings. Two weeks later, a deal was drafted in the Senate, passed by Congress and signed by Obama that had a total of zero revenue from multinational corporations to help our staggering deficit.
The fact that the New Year's fiscal cliff avoidance package completely ignored any source of revenue from multinational tax dodgers is an abomination. With the country scrounging for revenue only from the very, very wealthy, this "deal" actually increases the deficit by $4 trillion over the next decade.There wasn't a single mention of closing corporate tax loopholes, ending deferral (the practice that lets multinationals wait until they repatriate their profits to pay tax) or making them bring back the $1.5 trillion they've been stockpiling untaxed during the past eight years. Nothing was mentioned about this enormous rip-off that leaves domestic business scrambling to compete while multinational corporations are laughing all the way to their shareholder meetings.
Instead, middle-class families will see less in their paychecks and those living really well will take a much bigger hit. All the while billion-dollar corporations continue to ask for more favors, more tax breaks, and what's even more obscene, a "territorial tax system" —a permanent tax holiday where they'll never pay any tax on the profits that they book offshore. Now that the fiscal cliff has been averted temporarily, it's time for Obama to close his ear to the Big Business lobby and open it to the American people.
Victoria Bruce is co-director/producer of We're Not Broke, a film about how multinational corporations are cheating the American people out of desperately needed tax revenue. It will stream free on Hulu beginning on Jan. 15www.werenotbrokemoive.com.