While few U.S. companies actually pay the full rate due to various deductions and credits, U.S. tax bites dissuade foreign companies from setting up shop here while providing incentives to U.S. multinational companies to keep large sums overseas, Republicans argue.

Obama largely agrees and has proposed lowering the top rate to 25 percent for manufacturers, even lower rates on income from still-undefined "advanced manufacturing" and a rate of 28 percent for all other corporations.

Laura D. Tyson, who was President Bill Clinton's chief national economic adviser and served on Obama's Economic Recovery Advisory Board, said there are big barriers to getting a significant reduction in corporate rates. Among them: "The country desperately needs more tax revenues" and "there are huge vested interests" to protect existing loopholes, she said.

"At the end, I would like to get rid of the corporate tax," Tyson said. "That's probably not going to happen."

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