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Stop beating up companies over foreign deals

There are two big-picture debates connected to the proposed Pfizer-AstraZeneca merger going on in Washington and London right now.

One is really a phony debate made up of opportunistic political scapegoating and name-calling, the other is a serious discussion of the clear opportunities we now have to improve America's economic landscape for business.



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Guess which one is getting the most attention?

Let's start with a quick look at the first debate, filled with hyperbolic politics. Here in the U.S., several critics claim that Pfizer is only interested in AstraZeneca because buying the rival will allow it to legally file as a foreign company and thus avoid our much higher U.S. corporate tax rates. This has several Democrats and liberal pundits calling Pfizer greedy and "unpatriotic."

Read MoreSurvey shows millionaires WANT higher taxes

In London, opposition politicians are casting the proposed deal as some kind of assault on British sovereignty. The attacks on Pfizer are using some of the classic xenophobic language you usually hear in discussions about terrorism and illegal immigration.

I suppose these arguments are vote-getters on both sides of the Atlantic. Here in the U.S., I'm sure the attacks will even earn some of the loudest shrieking politicos an added campaign donation or two.

But none of this is really helpful. Frankly when critics start throwing around words like "patriotism" and "loyalty" when it comes to taxes, it reminds me of the way bad cops and mobsters try to label informers as "rats." It's usually meant to cover up something much worse than some perceived lack of loyalty.

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And what I think is worse than any alleged instances of corporate non-patriotism is the regulatory and tax environment in this country that is killing existing jobs, killing potential new jobs, and very unpatriotically making our economy weaker by the day.

This isn't just about keeping companies from moving more jobs and tax revenues abroad. It's not about patriotism. The last time I checked, weren't we trying to create more jobs in this country? Shouldn't we be talking about luring new companies and employers into the U.S. instead of just focusing on who may or may not be loyal enough for us at the moment?

Thankfully, some observers are looking at this Pfizer-AstraZeneca story as an opportunity to talk about just that. Kudos to the editorial board at the Washington Post for doing just that earlier this month and pointing out that both political parties actually agree that we need corporate tax reform.


Specifically, Republicans and President Obama both agree that the current U.S. corporate tax rate of 35 percent is way too high. The White House wants to cut it to 28 percent and the GOP wants it pared to 25 percent. There are other details, but politics are the only thing that really seems to be stopping both sides from meeting somewhere in the middle.

There was once a time in America when cutting taxes was a bipartisan goal. President John F. Kennedy pushed for across-the- board business and personal income-tax cuts in 1962. And when President Ronald Reagan made a similar push in 1981, he instructed his economic and political team to use Kennedy's speeches as a guide. President Bill Clinton helped create the 90's economic boom by drastically cutting capital gains taxes after his initial economic policies failed during his first term. Sadly, President Obama reversed most of those cuts and this decade's economy remaRead Moreins in neutral.

Read MoreWhat Israel can teach the US about taxes

The reality of the need for tax cuts goes well beyond Washington and multinational mergers. Turn on your TV or news radio these days and you're likely to encounter more than a few commercials touting tax break offers for businesses from state, county and city governments. Many of the municipalities making these offers are in solid blue areas, undercutting the relatively new Democratic Party fad of pretending to believe that higher taxes are patriotic or even good for the economy.

So who else will join the Washington Post in insisting on tuning out the partisan noise and focusing on the two tax proposals currently on the table?

Doing something like that is at the core of CNBC's "Rise Above" initiative and I hope that tax policy someday gets the kind of attention the news media gave to the government shutdown and sequester battles of 2012 and 2013.

But until then, we're simply stuck.

Commentary by Jake Novak, supervising producer of "Street Signs." Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

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