Obama corporate tax reforms out in coming weeks

@CNNMoney February 14, 2012: 7:20 PM ET
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner says that guidelines to reform corporate taxes will come out in the next few weeks.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner says that guidelines to reform corporate taxes will come out in the next few weeks.

WASHINGTON (CNNMoney) -- President Obama's plan to reform the corporate tax system will come out in the next few weeks, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner told a Senate panel Tuesday.

But don't get too excited. It won't be detailed legislation. In fact, it'll be vague on purpose in an effort to find "common ground" on broad principles between Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill, Geithner said.

"We want to maximize the chance we can take advantage of that (common ground) to build consensus on something that's going to work," Geithner told the Senate Finance Committee.

The Obama administration has been talking about unveiling a plan to fix corporate tax system for well over a year. Last year, the pressure for a corporate tax system fix heated up with news of General Electric's zero tax rate in 2010 due to profits overseas and losses at its financial unit. General Electric (GE, Fortune 500) CEO Jeffrey Immelt is the chief of President Obama's Council for Jobs and Competitiveness.

The top corporate tax rate of 35%, among the highest in the world, has long been bemoaned by business leaders and tax experts. They say it discourages foreign investment in the United States and hinders the ability of U.S. companies to compete internationally.

The Obama administration is expected to talk about lowering the top rate while axing some of the more than 130 business corporate tax breaks currently on the books and limiting companies' ability to shift profits to nations where tax rates are lower.

"In short, it will help level the playing field for businesses and allow the government to collect needed revenue while promoting economic growth," Geithner said in his written statement.

Obama budget fails to tackle entitlements

However, cutting the top rate to below 30% will require some serious slash-and-burn action. And details are key to moving corporate tax reform forward, said Clint Stretch, managing principal of federal tax policy at Deloitte Tax.

For example, a lot of publicly traded companies will want to know what they would pay in a tax year versus what they can defer. And cash-sensitive companies are going to want to know if they can depreciate the value of capital equipment.

"At some point people have to step up and say here are the details -- here are the winners and losers," Stretch said. "Folks want to know where they are on that spectrum."

- CNNMoney senior writer Jeanne Sahadi contributed to this report. To top of page

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