President Barack Obama's support of anti-inversion legislation only aims to put a patch on a larger problem: Corporate taxes in America are too high and the tax code needs to be overhauled. That's the message from two CEOs interviewed on CNBC Thursday.
"The current U.S. tax system puts U.S. companies at a disadvantage," Eli Lilly Chief John Lechleiter said in a "Squawk Box" interview. "Some of these companies acting on these inversions … are simply trying to level the playing field. If we got a concern about inversions we need to tackle our tax code."
(President Obama will discuss inversions and the state of the economy in an exclusive interview at 5 p.m. ET Thursday on CNBC-TV and CNBC.com)
Caterpillar's Doug Oberhelman echoed those sentiments. "There is no question that a comprehensive, full-blown tax reform in this country is absolutely needed and will absolutely will stimulate growth."
The president is expected Thursday to call for an end to a corporate loophole that allows companies to avoid federal taxes by shifting their tax domiciles overseas. A recent spate of companies, largely in the pharmaceutical industry, has sparked concern in Washington about U.S. companies leaving for greener tax pastures.
Lechleiter said the president's approach to support anti-inversion bills on Capitol Hill is not enough. "Let's not look symptoms and let's look at the root cause." Businesses have been asking for corporate tax reform for years, he added. "I think it's time to reopen that conversation and move forward."
"Lilly right now is not contemplating tax inversion for the simple reason that we're not interested in doing a large-scale acquisition," said Lechleiter, who also argued for the benefits of being headquartered in the U.S. "There's no better place to find talented people than the United States. This is the center of biomedical innovation."
Like Lilly, Caterpillar competes in the global marketplace. "Tax reform has to happen," Oberhelman said. "That should be the No. 1 policy issue to get this economy moving."
—By CNBC's Matthew J. Belvedere