Congress has its eye on Apple’s $158 billion in offshore cash. UPDATE: So does Obama

January 31, 2015, 11:13 AM UTC


(Bloomberg) — Obama Said to Seek 19% Global Minimum Tax to Aid Road Fund”

See: Apple, Obama and the Federal Highway Trust Fund

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The issue two years ago, when Sen. Carl Levin brought Tim Cook to Washington for a televised grilling, was $100 billion.

That’s how much in foreign earnings Apple was keeping offshore to avoid paying a 35% U.S. capital gains repatriation tax.

Two years and a few hundred million iPhones later, Apple’s overseas cash hoard has grown to $158 billion, and it’s once more in Congressional crosshairs.

This time, however, the politicians with their eye on Apple’s billions are Apple’s friends: Sen. Barbara Boxer, the California Democrat in whose old Congressional district Apple does business, and Republican Rand Paul, the libertarian from Kentucky who came to Apple’s defense two years ago, calling Levin’s hearings a “show trial” and tweeting that the Senate owed Apple an apology.

On Thursday, the unlikely duo announced plans to introduce a bipartisan bill they’re calling the “Boxer-Paul Invest in Transportation Act of 2015.”

They might have called it the “Let Apple Fix Our Bridges” act.

The bill would give Apple and other companies with large overseas earnings what they have been asking for: A tax holiday. U.S. firms would get a five-year window during which they could pay a 6.5% federal tax on the money they bring home, not 35%.

The revenue generated would be used to fund the popular Highway Trust Fund, which pays for bridge and road repair across the country and is scheduled to expire in May.

Senator Orrin Hatch, chair of the Senate finance committee, is skeptical. He points to a study by the Joint Committee on Taxation last year that found tax holidays raise money for the first few years but cost the government more in the long run by encouraging companies to shift even more of their profits overseas.

“Tax holiday proposals designed to pay for the transportation bill sound great until you look at the details,” Hatch said in a statement to The Hill.

But the bill might just fly, because 65,000 U.S. bridges and half the nation’s roads are in disrepair, and the alternative is to raise taxes on the rest of us — most likely through a gas tax.

The Boxer-Paul act would put limits on what Apple could do with its repatriated billions. No executive bonuses, for example, no dividends or stock buyouts. Those last two could be a problem for Apple, which has been borrowing against its foreign earnings for precisely those purposes.

Permitted uses: Increased hiring, wages and pensions, R&D, environmental improvements, public-private partnerships, capital improvements and acquisitions. Details here.

Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter at @philiped. Read his Apple AAPL coverage at or subscribe via his RSS feed.

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