Retailers Push Alternatives in a Bid to Kill Border-Adjusted Tax

Updated on
  • J.C. Penney CEO says he’s working with lawmakers on options
  • One alternative said to be not cutting corporate rate to 20%

Marvin Ellison, chairman and chief executive officer of J.C. Penny Co., speaks with Greg Sandfort, chief executive officer officer of Tractor Supply Co., before a listening session with Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 15, 2017.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

U.S. retailers are working with lawmakers in the House and Senate to craft alternatives to a proposed tax on imported goods that they say will raise prices for consumers.

“We’re in the process of working with the Hill to give a couple of different alternatives to what we think would be a regressive tax,” J.C. Penney Co. Chief Executive Officer Marvin Ellison said Friday in an interview.

Ellison was part of a group of retail CEOs that met with President Donald Trump on Feb. 15. Tax reform and specifically the border-adjustment tax, which has been trumpeted by House Speaker Paul Ryan as the centerpiece of how to help pay for corporate tax cuts, was the focus. The executives voiced their concerns to the president and proposed other ways to lower rates rather than taxing imports, he said.

“Hopefully some of the recommendations we’re putting forward will make their way toward any future tax reform,” Ellison said. He declined to give details on the alternatives discussed.

Ryan and House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady have been struggling to gain support for their border-adjustment concept from other Republicans. Their plan would replace the corporate income tax with a new, border-adjusted levy on U.S. companies’ domestic sales and imports. The proposal has stirred sharp divisions among businesses: Retailers, automakers and oil refiners that rely on imported goods and materials oppose it, while export-heavy manufacturers support it.

“House Republicans ran on our tax reform plan and we’re now following up on the promises we made to the American people to level the playing field for our manufacturers, simplify the tax code, and leapfrog the rest of the world in economic growth,” AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Ryan, said in an e-mailed statement. “Speaker Ryan is committed to success.”

A formal alternative to a border-adjusted tax hasn’t yet been created, according to people familiar with the lobbying effort. Some of the ideas being considered include not reducing the corporate tax rate to as low as 20 percent as in the House plan, said the people, who asked not to be named because the talks are private. Another suggestion is to create a program for companies to repatriate overseas profits and use the taxes generated to help pay for the corporate tax cut, the people said.

Trump had initially called the border-adjusted tax “too complicated,” before aides more recently said he was warming to it. He’s said he will unveil a tax plan in the next few weeks. The White House has sent signals that it’s embraced the idea of some kind of a tax on imports, but hasn’t adopted the border-adjustment tax yet, the people said.

— With assistance by Anna Edgerton

(Updates with comment from Ryan’s spokeswoman in sixth paragraph.)
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