All blog posts created by Senator Ron Wyden
  • Wyden Letter to the Editor: China’s subsidy of solar panels

    (Note: this letter was originally published in the Washington Post on October 28, 2012)

    A federal investigation has proved that China is subsidizing its solar panels and dumping those panels in the U.S. market. The Oct. 19 editorial “A cloud on trade” said there’s a good reason to let China continue to do this. I disagree.

    World trade is governed by well-defined rules. Allowing China to break those rules at the whim of certain lobbying groups would turn the rules-based trading system into one based on politics. The world tried that system before. It failed. Under that system, trade was neither free nor fair, to the detriment of the United States and global economy.

    Failure to address China’s practices will undercut U.S. innovation. It will also make it more difficult for the United States to act against China’s cheating in other areas on everything from the manipulation of its currency to its export restraints on resources such as rare earth minerals.

    China has been clear that it is seeking to be a dominant provider of the world’s solar panels, and it is accomplishing this by breaking the rules. To accept these actions because it is helpful to consumers (for now) is to accept a world in which China chooses the industries it wishes to dominate and the

    United States is forced to take what’s left. How long after the last U.S. solar manufacturer has shut its doors will China wait to use its monopoly power to raise prices for U.S. consumers?

    Ron Wyden, Washington

    The writer, a Democrat from Oregon, is a member of the U.S. Senate.

  • Clear Geolocation Guidelines Are Needed to Protect Privacy Rights

    (Note: This editorial piece was originally posted on US News & World Report as part of their Debate Club series wherein lawmakers answered the question, "Should Probable Cause Be Required for Police to Use Cell Phone Location Data?")

    Before cellphones were commonplace, law enforcement's ability to track your movements was largely limited to the natural human powers of observation. As long as tracking you around the clock meant following you around the clock, it was generally safe to assume that law enforcement would only dedicate the time, energy, and resources necessary to follow you if they had a good reason. In other words, there was little risk that overreaching law enforcement would abuse its surveillance powers to track law-abiding citizens.

    Things have changed.

    Thanks to technological advancements, police departments no longer have to pay overtime or divert resources from other projects to find out where someone goes. Tracking suspects or law-abiding individuals is now as easy as accessing their GPS signals or asking a cellphone company for its customers' location records.

    While having access to geolocation data is clearly useful for law enforcement agencies, without the resource limitations that used to discourage the government from tracking you without good reason, the limits on when and how geolocation data can be accessed are unclear. A police department, for example, might not have the resources to follow everyone who lives within a city block for a month, but without clear rules for electronic tracking there is nothing to stop it from requesting every resident's cellphone location history.

    Obviously, we expect people to see us when we step out onto the street each morning, but we don't expect those people to track all of our movements over the course of days, weeks, months, or even years. A lot can be learned from our location histories, like where we go to church, what doctors we see, what political organizations we belong to, and who we spend our time with.

    Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement must to get a warrant before secretly tracking an individual with an electronic monitoring device. While it seems likely that the majority of the court would agree that secretly turning someone's cellphone into a tracking device would be similarly intrusive, law enforcement shouldn't have to go all the way to the Supreme Court every time it needs direction on how it can use tracking technology.

    Clear guidelines for accessing geolocation data won't just protect the privacy rights of law-abiding Americans—much like warrant requirements for wiretaps—they will make it possible for law enforcement to use geolocation tools with confidence that the evidence they gather will be admissible in court. Clear rules will also reassure cellphone companies that they can comply with government requests without violating their customers' privacy, and the justice system can create criminal penalties for stalkers who use geolocation tools to secretly track their victims.

    A lot has changed since 1986, when Congress last set rules for electronic privacy. It's time for Congress to step in and set a modern standard.

  • Bipartisan, Comprehensive Tax Reform Will Restore America’s Competitive Edge

    (Note: This column was originally published in Tax Watch — Spring, 2012)

    What does this mean? It means that instead of investing in new jobs and innovation, U.S. businesses are investing time, energy and resources to avoid paying taxes. It

    means that instead of hiring people to build things, businesses are hiring lobbyists to secure more specialized tax breaks and loopholes to lower their tax burden. It means that the tax code is now so complicated that instead of making it easy for businesses to set up shop, the U.S. tax code requires every entrepreneur to have an accountant. And it means that instead of encouraging investment in the U.S., the U.S. tax code is encouraging U.S. companies to invest in other countries where taxes are lower.

    The U.S. tax code is clearly in need of reform.

    It’s been done before. In 1986, a Democratic House majority joined forces with President Ronald Reagan and a Republican-led Senate to overhaul the federal tax code. There was no precedent for that coalition, but there is one today.

    Joining forces against special interests, Democrats and Republicans sent the president sweeping bipartisan legislation that eliminated numerous tax breaks and loopholes to streamline the code and hold down rates for everyone, without any additional government spending.

    More than 6.3 million new jobs were created in just the two years that followed the ’86 reform. That is more than double the number of jobs created during the full eight years that followed the Bush tax cuts of 2001.

    Senator Dan Coats, a Republican from Indiana, and I have offered reform legislation modeled on the 1986 effort that we believe can make U.S. businesses more competitive with their global counterparts and encourage investment in U.S. workers. We have been working together to advance the Bipartisan Tax Fairness and Simplification Act and with the budget crisis throwing into sharp relief the pitfalls associated with other remedies in Washington, we believe the time is ripe for the same kind of bipartisan, comprehensive tax reform we saw almost three decades ago.

    What became clear from the 1986 effort was that lower marginal tax rates—the tax rate on the last dollar of income earned—did more for the economy as a whole than special tax provisions or sweetheart deals.

    Our bill wipes out dozens of these giveaways and lowers the corporate tax rate for everyone, from a global high of 35 percent down to a competitive 24 percent. That will boost American businesses’ ability to compete, plain and simple.

    The Wyden-Coats bill eliminates the tax break for shipping jobs overseas but gives U.S. corporations a one-time tax holiday to repatriate profits currently held offshore, helping them transition to the new tax system. In addition to the low flat corporate rate, this will help make the U.S. a more attractive place for both U.S. and foreign businesses to invest.

    But tax reform can’t stop with the corporate tax code.

    The vast majority of American businesses pay taxes under the rules of the individual code so corporate tax reform alone will do nothing for the thousands of sole proprietorships, partnerships, and LLCs that make up the backbone of the U.S. economy. We need comprehensive tax reform that simplifies the corporate and the individual code at the same time so that no U.S. business or taxpayer is left out.

    Tax reform can create a simpler, more business-friendly tax code that increases tax revenue without raising tax rates. It can lower corporate tax rates to make American businesses more competitive, which will help businesses to create jobs that pay middle class wages. Tax reform can also make tax filing less taxing for everyone.

    None of this is going to be easy. When the drum beat for reform picks up, every special interest and lobbying firm in the city will be working overtime to protect the tax breaks they hold dear. But if Congress is serious about creating jobs, there is no better place to start than tax reform.