I thought Congress would repeal or extend the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 delayed change to §174 that changes from expensing R&D (the law since 1954) to capitalizing and amortizing over 5 years (domestic) or 15 years (foreign). After all, a key purpose of the TCJA was to make our tax system more internationally competitive. Providing a more unfavorable rule for R&D expenditures goes in the opposite direction. But it wasn’t to be effective until tax years beginning after 12/31/21 (most TCJA changes were effective after 2017). So it was arguably more of a budget gimmick to reach the desired revenue loss target set for the TCJA. But, it was not delayed or repealed – although that might still happen.
1. Is expensing the right tax policy? I think so. Generally, a long-lived asset should be amortized over its useful life. But not all R&D has a life beyond one year and when it does, it is hard to estimate. So, I think economic growth and administrative convenience reach an appropriate result to just expense the R&D when incurred.
2. Capitalizing and expensing over 5 years is too long and sends the wrong message that R&D work in the U.S. is not valued. A recent report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine entitled Protecting U.S. Technological Advantage notes in the first paragraph in the preface: