Biden's Quiet Tax Proposal: Banks Pay Twice

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Posted by Dan Kim on Thursday, February 25th, 2021, 2:29 PM PERMALINK

Over the past year, American banks were instrumental in supporting the survival of 51 million American jobs. The Paycheck Protection Program is currently in the middle of a successful second round as banks helped extend a lifeline to over 700,000 small businesses. Banks have been on the front lines throughout the healthcare emergency, retaining thousands of employees and remaining open to help Americans meet their financial needs. They should be applauded. But their resiliency is now a target as Democrats are preparing to tax these institutions at a time when access to affordable financial services is necessary to rebuild a prosperous economy.

President Biden consistently campaigned on reversing the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and increasing the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%, creating the highest corporate income tax rate in the industrialized world. For banks, S&P Global estimates a tax hike like this could cost the ten largest U.S. banks $7 billion annually.

Bloomberg reported the nation's top six banks saved $32 billion since Trump’s tax cuts. These savings helped them invest in their hundreds of thousands of employees and continue to expand access to affordable financial services and products. Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, and Citigroup raised their minimum wage to $15 per hour after the tax cut. Bank of America increased hourly wages to a minimum of $20 per hour.

The Biden administration also plans on instituting a financial risk fee on banks. Democrats, including Secretary Hillary Clinton, have been pushing for this double tax since 2015. And Biden may find a likely ally in the Senate to spearhead this initiative. During Senator Amy Klobuchar's (D-Minn.) presidential campaign, she proposed a financial risk fee to pay for her “Climate Smart and Green Infrastructure” ambitions. She also chairs the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee which helps craft Senate Democrat's policies.

The mechanics of the financial risk fee could be similar to President Obama’s plan in 2015. His administration proposed an annual seven basis point fee on the non-depository liabilities of financial institutions with assets over $50 billion. These liabilities include Federal Funds Market Repurchase Agreements, commercial paper, and bond issuances, and would directly affect 42 depository institutions with assets over $50 billion. A large institution like Bank of America, which borrows to finance its lending and market-making activities, can see an annual $540 million fee in addition to their record increase in corporate tax.

This tax risks the employment of 1.4 million bank employees, and the tens of millions of customers who rely on these banks daily, especially during the healthcare emergency. Although many small banks would be exempt, this arbitrary penalty would discourage smaller banks from taking on new customers to remain below the $50B asset threshold.

Proponents of these policies claim that taxing bank’s borrowing reduces the chance of bank failures. However, economists have shown that bank taxes like this are ineffective and have failed elsewhere.

Essentially banks could be taxed for simply being banks, serving customers, facilitating financial transactions, and providing loans to small businesses or entrepreneurs. This tax would raise the cost of financial services and punish many of the unbanked and underbanked who need access the most to affordable financial products.

Without banks' further participation in programs like PPP to meet the financial needs of Americans, small businesses could see a pullback in lending, and the economy will be slow to recover. It is inappropriate for the administration to punish the banking sector in light of the essential services they have continued to provide almost a year into the healthcare crisis. Banks should, instead, be rewarded and bolstered for their ongoing support in stimulating the American economic recovery.

Photo Credit: Steve Walser

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