With more and more operations of the executive and judiciary branches happening behind closed doors and out of public view, the legislative branch was bound to join Washington’s secrecy-fest at some point. That point apparently is now.
As The Hill reports, the U.S. Senate’s “top tax writers have promised their colleagues 50 years worth of secrecy in exchange for suggestions on what deductions and credits to preserve” in a tax “reform” bill that aims to overhaul the tax code from scratch. The system, reports the newspaper, allows only 10 congressional staff members to have “direct access to a senator’s written suggestions” and “each submission will be given its own ID number and be kept on password-protected servers, with printed versions kept in locked safes” in the National Archives until the end of 2064.
The architects of this scheme, Senators Max Baucus (D-MT) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) suggest that secrecy is the best way to facilitate input from all senators, as lawmakers will know they can make substantive suggestions without the fear of political retribution.
An optimist might initially see some merit to that logic – after all, as the Hill notes, there is “enormous pressure being brought to bear by K Street lobbyists, who are working furiously to protect their clients and the tax provisions that benefit them.” So, theoretically, detaching senators’ identity from the specific tax initiatives they are proposing could be a way to encourage them to do the right thing. It could, for instance, give them a means of offering much-needed proposals that end various wasteful corporate tax giveaways without having to fear political retribution (nasty television ads, contributions to opponents, etc.) from the corporations that benefit from such giveaways.
But theory is different from reality. And here’s the reality: secrecy is more often than not the instrument that helps Washington do things that are bad for the general public and, thus, wildly unpopular – but good for the politically connected.
- David Sirota Agrees with me on the Tax Reform “Secrecy” Scandal (ataxingmatter.blogs.com)
- A Lobbyist’s Dream: Senate Guaranteed 50 Years’ Secrecy On Tax Reform Ideas (personalliberty.com)
- Chris Weigant: 50 Years Of Secrecy, Courtesy of Max Baucus (huffingtonpost.com)
- Senators’ Tax-Reform Secrets Are Safe for 50 Years (businessweek.com)