This past week, the European Union proudly announced that its members had unanimously agreed to a minimum corporate tax rate of 15%. Barely able to contain his excitement, Paolo Gentilone, the E.U.’s top economic official, declared, “This agreement on minimum corporate taxation is a win for fairness, a win for diplomacy and a win for multilateralism.”
The focus of the discussions now shifts to the United States, because according to its own stipulations, the E.U.’s minimum corporate tax cannot take effect unless America joins the 15% club.
Even though this minimum corporate tax concept is largely the brainchild of U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellin, the U.S. should allow the E.U.’s corporate tax to wither and die on the vine. While some call it a “win” for fairness, diplomacy and multilateralism, it would be a loss for America on many levels.
Most importantly, even if the president finds the provisions of the U.S. Constitution an inconvenience, Congress sets tax rates, not the president. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution states, “The Congress shall have the power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide the common defense and general welfare of the United States.”
Putting aside the question of whether a 15% minimum corporate tax rate is good domestic policy, making it part of an international tax treaty may well be unconstitutional because it ties the hands of any future Congress to lay and collect taxes.
Even if such a tax treaty is constitutional, it would be a huge mistake for any Congress or administration to deprive future generations of the tools they may need to deal with a crisis. America must always have the flexibility it needs to engage with the world as it is, not as Pollyannaish multilateralists like those in the Biden administration seem to believe it should be.
Moreover, foreign powers need to know that Congress has an indispensable role to play in foreign affairs. In practical terms, it strengthens a president’s hand if he can credibly say he must persuade Congress and the American people before he can sign on to an international agreement.
We saw this play out in the case of former president Barack Obama and his ill-advised nuclear deal with Iran. The deal should have been a treaty requiring ratification by two-thirds of the Senate. Rather than leverage this constitutional procedure to get a better deal, Obama circumvented the Senate and the Constitution, entering into a so-called “Executive Agreement” with the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, notwithstanding bipartisan opposition to the deal. Later, he cried foul along with the Iranian regime when former President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement.
Today, President Joe Biden is trying desperately to repeat Obama’s mistake. Thankfully, however, Iran is refusing to reenter the deal. Perhaps it has learned that any agreement without Senate ratification is no agreement at all. If only the Biden White House had learned that lesson as well.
More broadly, the E.U.’s corporate minimum tax rate is to America’s detriment for precisely the reasons Gentilone claimed it is a “win.” Multilateralism is not an end in itself, as Gentilone seems to believe. Rather, it is a tool that nations use to advance their national security interests.
NATO is perhaps the best example. The NATO member nations did not enter into the most successful security arrangement in the history of the world to advance the cause of multilateralism. Instead, they used multilateralism as a tool to protect and defend each individual nation’s sovereignty and national security.
In contrast, by entering into the minimum tax agreement, the United States would subordinate its sovereignty and national security to the goal of multilateralism.
The president and Congress are not elected to advance the cause of international “fairness,” “diplomacy” or “multilateralism.” They are elected to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and improve the lives of the American people.
If the post-World War II world order has proven nothing else, it is that when Congress and the president fulfill their Constitutional duties, the entire free world benefits.
Eric R. Levine is a founding member of the New York City law firm Eiseman, Levine Lehrhaupt & Kakoyiannis P.C. He is an essayist, political commentator and fundraiser for Republican candidates with an emphasis on the United States Senate.