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Business Group’s Bid for Tax Rewrite Is More Than a Hoop Dream

The head of the Business Roundtable on Monday used a conference table festooned with miniature basketballs to launch the group’s new campaign for an overhaul of the U.S. tax system.

“It’s time that America reclaim its home court advantage,” said former Michigan Gov. John Engler, in a nod to the campaign’s slogan, which was emblazoned on the basketballs.

Engler called it the most significant lobbying press during his two-year tenure at the helm of the business group. The nationwide effort will cost the group deep into the six figures — though he would not put a specific price tag on it — and will include print and digital advertisements beginning Tuesday.

The “Home Court Advantage” campaign (an obvious nod to college basketball’s March Madness that came from outside firm APCO Worldwide) aims to give momentum to efforts to pass a comprehensive tax bill. It asserts that the corporate tax rate must decrease in order to make the United States more competitive for businesses. Engler said his group, which represents the CEOs of the biggest companies in the country, will press for a market-based territorial tax system and a revenue-neutral simplification of the tax code.

“America’s ability to compete in the global marketplace is undermined by a decades-old tax policy playbook that stands in the way of domestic job creation, discourages business investments and thwarts economic growth,” he said during the press event at the group’s headquarters near Capitol Hill.

Engler said the United States has the highest corporate tax rate and said lowering it to an average of 25 percent is an achievable goal, even if some companies would — in the process of a tax overhaul — stand to lose some of their cherished tax breaks.

“That’s why it’s really important to keep the CEOs engaged,” he said, acknowledging that every company has got “something they like.”

Corporations are willing to forgo their own perks in return for a simpler code and a permanent system, as opposed to one where certain tax breaks frequently expire and come up for renewal by Congress.

Engler said he believes there is bipartisan support for a tax overhaul in Congress.

The Business Roundtable’s Bill Miller said it was “not for us to say” whether Congress would move a comprehensive package or individual pieces only related to corporate taxes.

But the campaign’s advertisements endorse a broad approach. “Passing comprehensive tax reform — including a lower rate, an end to double taxation on foreign earnings and a streamlined code — will fuel our economic recovery and create vital jobs,” reads the text of a print ad the group distributed on Monday. It shows a basketball player standing before empty seats with a basket overhead. “It’s time to reclaim America’s home court advantage,” the text adds.

Engler said the roundtable has had many interactions with the lawmakers and staff on the congressional tax-writing committees and has received encouraging feedback, including from the Obama administration. “We think this is trending in absolutely the right direction,” he said.

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