WASHINGTON — Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush staked out his position on critical issues impacting U.S. business in a broad question and answer forum on Tuesday, expressing support for taxes on e-commerce sales, lowering corporate and individual taxes, and backing free-trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Bush — a former governor of Florida who is struggling in the Republican race against challenges from Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Marco Rubio — participated in a teleforum and addressed questions posed by members of the National Retail Federation, National Association of Manufacturers, Associated Builders and Contractors, the Associated General Contractors, the Business-Industry Political Action Committee and the National Federation of Independent Business.
Outlining his economic plans, Bush pledged to accelerate gross domestic product growth to 4 percent with a variety of proposals, including comprehensive tax reform — he would reduce the corporate tax rate to 20 percent from 35 percent; new infrastructure programs, and the elimination of some regulations on American companies to encourage more investment in the U.S.
Among the federal regulations Bush said he would repeal or freeze were stringent Environmental Protection Agency rules on clean energy and the ozone, and the Department of Labor’s overtime regulation unveiled in June that would extend overtime protections to nearly 5 million white-collar workers.
One key issue particularly important to retailers, and where the coalition of business groups also found support from Bush, was on Internet sales taxes. Business groups have been pressing Congress to pass legislation for several years that would allow states to collect taxes on online and other remote sales in the 45 states and the District of Columbia that collect sales tax, whether the retailers have a physical presence in the state or not. But legislative efforts, while advancing at times, have not been successful.
Bush said the U.S. needs to find a national solution to the problem and noted that there should be “parity” between brick-and-mortar stores and e-commerce sites and online marketplaces.
“There is a complete argument to be made,” Bush said. “It may not have been as complete 10 years ago when Internet sales were significantly lower, but now they are an increasing part of the sales mix. Brick-and-mortar businesses do have a significant role to play in our community and finding a way to get parity there makes sense.”
On global trade, Bush said he supports opening markets and tearing down barriers with deals such as the 12-nation TPP pact, but he stopped short of supporting the Export-Import Bank that has its charter expiring in June.
“In general, I do think that we can create a much more robust, export-driven economy by enforcing trade laws and by tearing down barriers so that American providers of goods and services, and certainly agriculture, have a chance to sell products overseas,” Bush said. “The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a good opportunity for us.”
Bush said he has not read the text of the TPP agreement, released last week, but said if the deal achieves the desired objective of lowering tariffs and tearing down barriers to U.S. exports, “this is the way you lead the world.”
“This is how you become an economic superpower,” he said. “If we don’t do it, in Asia particularly, you’ll see a dramatic shift of standards and procedures that are part of the trading relationship and the trading regime in the world will look more Chinese than American, and that will not be in our national security interests.”
Another hot-button topic on the campaign trail and across the country has been the issue of the minimum wage. Bush said he is opposed to an increase in the federal minimum wage, currently set at $7.25, arguing that it would lead to job losses.
“If you go to a $15 rate or what Hillary Clinton says is $12 and make it go up, there will be hundreds of thousands of jobs lost,” Bush said. “The real challenge in America today is that the first rung of the ladder is harder and harder to get hold of…All of these top-down-driven approaches of regulations, or raising the minimum or higher taxes, only stifle the ability of people to rise up.”
Many states and some companies, such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Gap Inc., have raised their minimum wage levels. President Obama has called for an increase in the hourly federal rate to $10.10, arguing that it will help lift millions of people out of poverty and is overdue. The last increase in the minimum wage was in 2007 when President George W. Bush, Jeb’s brother, signed the first such increase in nearly a decade, lifting the rate to $7.25 an hour from $5.15 over two years.