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MetLife CEO Says Industries Must Forfeit `Sacred' Tax Preference

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(Bloomberg) — MetLife Inc. Chief Executive Officer Steve Kandarian said industries must be willing to forfeit some of their advantages in the tax code in order for the U.S. to seize a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to lower corporate rates and simplify the process.

“If every company and every industry views its tax preferences as sacred, reform will be impossible,” Kandarian said Thursday in his annual letter to shareholders. “As long as tax reform does not pose a fundamental risk to our business model, we will be supportive.”

The White House unveiled its goals Wednesday, saying the federal corporate tax rate should be slashed to 15% from 35 percent. President Donald Trump’s plan also said Congress should “eliminate tax breaks for special interests,” without providing specifics.

(Related: Kleinbard to Congress: The Cows Must Die)

Past efforts to reform the tax code have been opposed by lobbyists for industries that enjoy deductions. But Kandarian said corporate executives should look at the big picture.

“We are also optimistic that reducing the U.S. corporate income tax rate, which is the highest in the developed world, will make U.S. companies more competitive globally,” the CEO said in the letter.

MetLife, the largest U.S. life insurer, has been fighting the increased regulation that the New York-based company faced after the 2008 financial crisis. Kandarian sued a regulatory panel in 2015 after MetLife was designated as too big to fail, a tag that could come with higher capital requirements.

‘Duplicative Regulation’

He won a court ruling last year that struck down the designation, although the government appealed the decision. MetLife asked a court Monday to delay a decision on the appeal after Trump ordered a review of the process for designating systemically important financial institutions.

“The strong regulatory upsurge since 2008 was understandable but, in my judgment, excessive,” Kandarian said. “After years of facing the prospect of costly and duplicative regulation, we believe MetLife will return to a level playing field with others in the life insurance industry — whether through judicial, administrative or legislative means.”

MetLife shares have slipped 3.7% this year, as of 10:36 a.m. in New York. That trails the 6.7% gain of the S&P 500 Index.

— Read CBO Identifies Targets for Health Spending Cuts on ThinkAdvisor.