Trump Order Takes Aim at Tax Regulations Imposed by Obama

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President Trump at a news conference on Thursday. He has directed the Treasury Department to review finance industry regulations imposed by the Obama administration. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump ordered his Treasury Department on Friday to review measures put in place by the Obama administration, setting the stage for a rollback of regulations that were intended to curtail corporate tax evasion and prevent another financial crisis.

The executive order and two presidential memorandums come as Mr. Trump is scrambling for achievements as the 100-day mark in the White House approaches. Frustrated by the slow pace of action in Congress on his goal of overhauling the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial regulation law and the fact that his mission of rewriting the tax code remains in limbo, Mr. Trump is attempting to take matters into his own hands.

“This has to do with the complexity of tax regulations,” Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said at a briefing ahead of the signing on Friday. “The president wants to make clear to the American people that we are going to fix the tax code.”

Mr. Trump has made deregulating the financial industry a priority of his presidency. Critics of the president said that if the reviews that he requested became policy it would represent a return to the freewheeling days that led up to the 2008 financial crisis.

“From our perspective, it is a direction that is dramatically backwards on financial stability,” said Lisa Donner, executive director of Americans for Financial Reform.

The presidential order asks Mr. Mnuchin to review the tax regulations imposed by President Barack Obama in 2016. Those include efforts to clamp down on corporate inversions — in which American companies merge with foreign companies to take advantage of lower tax rates abroad.

Viewed alone, undoing the rules would appear to be at odds with Mr. Trump’s campaign pledge to reduce incentives for companies to invert.

Last year Mr. Obama’s Treasury Department, concerned about Pfizer’s $152 billion bid to acquire the Botox maker Allergan, issued rules to thwart inversions. Among those efforts were regulations to prevent moves like “earnings-stripping,” in which an American subsidiary borrows from a parent company and uses the interest payments on the loans to offset its earnings, to make inversions less attractive financially.

The uproar over inversions dogged a number of transactions over the last five years, from Burger King’s takeover of the Canadian chain Tim Hortons to the drug maker AbbVie’s planned acquisition of an Irish rival, Shire.

But the major target of the outrage was the Pfizer-Allergan deal, by far the biggest effort by a company to give up its American citizenship to cut its taxes.

Pfizer executives braced themselves for blowback from the Obama administration — but were surprised by how aggressively the White House fought the deal. Within a few months, Pfizer and Allergan surrendered and ended their agreement.

Robert Willens, an independent tax consultant, said reversing these rules would be a gift to Wall Street bankers and lawyers who have complained that international deal making has been hampered by the regulations.

“They’ll be dancing in the streets and jumping for joy,” Mr. Willens said.

The memorandums to the executive order ask Mr. Mnuchin to review the Orderly Liquidation Authority, a tool created by the Dodd-Frank law for unwinding financial institutions that are on the verge of collapse. Many banks have been hopeful that Congress will repeal the system. The administration is examining whether it encourages excessive risk-taking or exposes taxpayers to potential liabilities.

Treasury is also reviewing the Financial Stability Oversight Council, which designates financial institutions as “systemically important,” better known as “too big to fail.” It requires them to hold more capital in reserve in the event of financial emergencies.

Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, assailed Mr. Trump for trying to undermine rules that were put in place to protect the economy: “Any actions to undermine these protections encourage Wall Street’s risky behavior and leave taxpayers and our economy exposed to another catastrophe.”

Mr. Brown said that Mr. Trump appeared to be breaking a campaign promise by making it easier for companies to use inversions.

“We should be working to lower taxes for hardworking families and workers across Ohio, not helping multimillion-dollar corporations cheat the system to avoid paying their fair share,” Mr. Brown said.

Mr. Mnuchin insisted that this would not be the case. He said that the administration was working on a soon-to-be released comprehensive tax reform plan that would address the problem of companies moving overseas.

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