Senate Approves Tax Treaties for First Time in Decade

WASHINGTON — The Senate voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to approve updates to international tax treaties, some of which were negotiated in the early years of the Obama administration, in a bipartisan victory for multinational companies.

The so-called treaty protocols with Switzerland, Japan and Luxembourg were approved a day after senators passed a protocol with Spain. Two Republican senators, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah, voted against approving all four treaties.

Getting to the votes required a multiyear lobbying campaign by some of the largest business groups in Washington, a coordinated push from the Trump administration and Senate Republican leadership — and the triumph of Kentucky’s senior senator, Mitch McConnell, over Mr. Paul, who had successfully stalled treaty approval for years.

The protocols allow companies with operations in Spain, Switzerland, Japan and Luxembourg to avoid some previous tax penalties for transferring money to their operations abroad. They also update the existing treaties to allow for more detailed sharing of information on individual and corporate taxpayers between countries.

Mr. Paul has long objected to those information-sharing provisions on privacy grounds, and he succeeded for years in holding up approval of the treaties because of it. He tried to block them in committee this year, and proposed privacy-related amendments to the Spain protocol on Monday. Those were voted down.

On Wednesday, Mr. McConnell criticized Mr. Paul’s efforts — and sense of senatorial importance — on the Senate floor.

“The years of delays in getting these noncontroversial treaties ratified have cost American businesses that employ American workers millions and millions of dollars,” Mr. McConnell said. Referring to Mr. Paul, but not by name, he added, “Year after year, money that could have been immediately used to hire Americans or make new investments had to either be frozen up or handed over in duplicate taxes, all in large part because one of our colleagues could not accept that one single senator who hasn’t persuaded his fellow members is not entitled to single-handedly rewrite international treaties.”

Mr. Paul had criticized Mr. McConnell in a speech on Tuesday evening, warning of privacy encroachment and accusing Mr. McConnell of short-circuiting Mr. Paul’s push for stronger protections.

“The fact that this legislation hasn’t come up for several years is really due to the fact that the Republican leader has failed to engage in any meaningful compromise or discussion over these,” he said.

In his remarks, Mr. McConnell referred to a Kentucky company that had pushed hard for ratification of the protocol with Spain.

North American Stainless is a subsidiary of Spain-based Acerinox and employs about 1,500 workers in Kentucky. A company executive told a Senate panel in 2014 that ratifying the tax protocol with Spain could lift Acerinox’s investments in Kentucky, by ending a 10 percent tax on dividend payments from the American subsidiary back to the parent company.

Mr. McConnell said that “I happen to know” that the company had been considering a $30 million investment in America but, because of the delay in voting on the protocol, had to pay a $15 million tax bill in April that would not have been due under the revised treaty. If the delay had continued, he said, the company would have owed an additional $35 million.

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