WASHINGTON — The Senate dragged Apple Inc., the world’s most valuable company, into the debate over the U.S. tax code Tuesday, grilling CEO Tim Cook over allegations that its Irish subsidiaries help the company avoid billions in U.S. taxes.
Cook said the subsidiaries have nothing to do with reducing its U.S. taxes, a message he struggled to convey to the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
“We pay all the taxes we owe — every single dollar,” Cook said. “We don’t depend on tax gimmicks.”
The senate subcommittee released a report Monday that held up Apple as an example of the legal tax avoidance made possible by the U.S. tax code. It estimates that Apple avoided at least $3.5 billion in U.S. federal taxes in 2011 and $9 billion in 2012 by using its tax strategy, and described a complex setup involving Irish subsidiaries as being a key element of this strategy.
But Cook said the Irish subsidiaries don’t reduce the company’s U.S. taxes at all. Rather, the company avoids paying the 35 percent federal tax rate on profits made overseas by not bringing those profits back to the U.S., a practice it shares with other multinationals.
Apple’s enormous, iPhone-fueled profits mean that it has more cash stashed overseas than any other company: $102 billion.
Cook reaffirmed Apple’s position that given the current U.S. tax rate, it has no intention of bringing that cash back to the U.S. Like other companies, it has a responsibility to shareholders to pay as little as possible in taxes.
In effect, Apple is holding out for a lower corporate tax rate, and Cook spent some of his time in the spotlight to advocate for one, accompanied by a streamlining of the tax code to eliminate deductions and credits.
Cook took a defensive tone with his opening statement. He stressed the 600,000 jobs that the company supports while adding that Apple is the nation’s largest corporate taxpayer.
At the same time, Cook said he was happy to appear to be able to give Apple’s side.
“I’m saying it’s who we are as people. ... Wherever we are, we’re an American company,” Cook insisted when asked about Apple’s use of affiliate companies in Ireland.
It was the first time an Apple CEO testified before Congress. Cook did so voluntarily, appearing with Apple finance chief Peter Oppenheimer and tax head Phillip Bullock.