Immelt, the jobs czar from hell

The New York Times reported last month that General Electric earned $14.2 billion in international profits, including $5.1 billion in the United States. Yet GE did not pay a dime in federal income taxes last year. Oddly, President Obama chose GE chairman and chief executive Jeffrey Immelt to head his President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

According to the Associated Press, Immelt’s compensation package doubled to $15.2 million last year, while this year, GE is seeking major concessions from the unions that represent its shrinking American workforce. That makes Immelt the wrong guy for the job of jobs czar.

Or as former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold wrote, “Someone like Immelt, who has helped his company evade taxes on its huge profits — and is now looking to workers to take major pay cuts after his compensation was doubled — should not lead the administration’s effort to create jobs.”

No lie.

After all, what kind of economic advice can Immelt give?

Probably advice like this:

Don’t push for lower corporate tax rates. Reformers want Washington to lower the U.S. corporate tax rate of 35 percent, so that America can compete with low-tax countries like Ireland and Singapore, where GE offshored significant profits. Immelt says corporate tax reform “deserves a healthy debate,” but he knows the big money is in loopholes.

Hire an army of tax lawyers. GE’s tax department has 975 employees — and make no mistake, they contribute to the economy.

Never stint on lobbyists. In the last decade, GE spent more than $200 million on lobbyists, many of them tax-law specialists. Remember, the best way to play by the rules is to ghostwrite them.

If Washington wants to spend money, support the spending. It doesn’t matter if legislation involves economic stimulus, clean energy or health care — if your operation is large enough, it will get a cut.

There are some things you can’t outsource. For example, CEOs, pet members of Congress and Washington lobbyists.

Donate to candidates from both parties. Republicans talk up lower, simpler taxes, but it’s just talk. Last year, Obama hectored what he calls the rich for “shirking” their duty to pay higher taxes. But Obamaland has sincere sympathy for those shirkers. Look at Obama’s pick for Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, who failed to pay $34,000 in Social Security and Medicare payments due on income earned while working for the International Monetary Fund.

When Obama appointed Immelt to his jobs and competitiveness council, the president said that Immelt “understands what it takes for America to compete in the global economy.”

Unfortunately, Immelt seems to have learned that the best way to increase GE’s profits was to eliminate a fifth of its American workforce, ship jobs overseas and hire a small army of tax attorneys.

A generous person might argue that GE’s experience makes Immelt the smart choice to reform the tax code.

But Immelt can’t be in charge of GE and reform a tax system it helped pervert. Obama must know that. Obama must not care.

Debra J. Saunders is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Her email address is dsaunders@sfchronicle.com.

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