Wouldn't it be great if Obama acknowledged that U.S. firms are overburdened by the highest corporate tax rate among developed countries, and as a result are becoming less and less competitive?
Wouldn't it be great if he said he wants to fix this tax imbalance in order to grow the economy faster and give U.S. businesses a leg up on the global scene?
Couldn't he just say that?
He could say it like this: "Look, I don't want to drive businesses away. I want to keep businesses here. I understand the importance of business. I understand that you can't have a good job without a thriving business. And I get that businesses require capital investment. And I understand that the investment and the business must have a high rate of return, after tax. When that's the case, the company expands, jobs grow and families have more income to pay for health care, education and the good life."
Instead, Obama mocks businesses. And now he's hauling out an election-year populist whine about "economic patriotism." He's attacking companies that merge with foreign businesses and reincorporate in lower-tax foreign countries. It's called inversion. And Obama wants to stop it in the name of patriotism.
In an interview with my CNBC colleague Steve Liesman, Obama talked about how businesses are ungrateful for "the range of benefits that have helped to build companies, create value (and) create profits." He complained that these firms are moving their "technical address simply to avoid paying taxes."
That sounds a bit like, "If you've got a business -- you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."
But the issue isn't avoiding all taxes. If a U.S. business reincorporates overseas, it still pays the same record-breaking 35 percent tax rate on its U.S. income. The difference is that it doesn't pay 35 percent on profits made in foreign countries. That's the double tax it is trying to avoid.
We are the only nation that has this goofy system. And it reduces after-tax profits and renders our companies less competitive. That's why nearly $2 trillion in cash from American companies is sitting overseas.
But Obama could turn this around in a blink. He could say, "We need that cash to grow the economy, create more jobs and, yes, to build more infrastructure. So I'm going to grant a small repatriation fee of 5 percent to bring that money back and put it to work at home."