Transparency: 50 years of omerta for Senate defenses of … tax breaks

posted at 2:01 pm on July 25, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

Earlier this month, I hailed a new approach to tax reform taken by Senators Max Baucus and Orrin Hatch.  Instead of having debates about what tax credits and deductions to eliminate, Baucus and Hatch proposed to start with zero and force their colleagues to defend any desired tax breaks from scratch.  An open debate on each and every tax break would not only require Senators to take a close look at the impact of the exemptions, it would also force Senators to publicly stand behind those arguments.

Or so I thought.  Instead, Baucus and Hatch have promised their colleagues that their suggestions will be hermetically sealed in a mayonnaise jar and left on Funk & Wagnall’s doorstep … for fifty years (via Instapundit):

The 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 tax reform.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and the panel’s top Republican, Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), assured lawmakers that any submission they receive will be kept under lock and key by the committee and the National Archives until the end of 2064.

Deeming the submissions confidential, the Senate’s top tax writers have said only certain staff members — 10 in all — will get direct access to a senator’s written suggestions. Each submission will also be given its own ID number and be kept on password-protected servers, with printed versions kept in locked safes.

The promise of confidentiality was revealed just two days before the deadline for senators to participate in the Finance Committee’s “blank slate” process, which puts the onus on lawmakers to argue for what credits and deductions should be kept in a streamlined tax code.

Fifty years? Do FISA court rulings stay secret that long?  Perhaps this is just a get-off-my-damn-lawn moment, but I recall when members of the legislative branch complained that the executive branch kept military and intelligence secrets classified for too long and at too high a level.

On the plus side, this is the US Senate.  Some of these people will still be around in 50 years to answer for their efforts.  Maybe we should just hold elections every 50 years, too, and that way the rest of us can know what our elected representatives are doing on the super-sensitive work of tax policy.

In my original post and column for The Week, while applauding the novel thinking behind the Baucus-Hatch approach, I wrote that it was still doomed to failure:

Most of these credits, deductions, and exemptions are very popular. The power to create them is very popular on Capitol Hill and the White House, and in both political parties in the Beltway. As long as that power exists — as it will in the current income-tax system, regardless of how pared down it may get once a generation — politicians will use it. That means a reformed tax system won’t stay that way for very long, even when politicians have the best of intentions. Or perhaps it’s better say especially when they have the best of intentions.

Real reform would be to get rid of the current income-tax structure altogether, in a manner that ensured Congress couldn’t restore it, either by leaps or by increments. That would take a constitutional amendment to require a flat tax with no deductions, credits, or exemptions, or to eliminate the income tax altogether with a repeal of the 16th Amendment and create a consumption tax instead. The latter would eliminate the IRS and its abuses, while the former would render it incapable of real malice and bias. If we want to see truly innovative and courageous reform with the goal of eliminating abuses of power, those are the only real paths that guarantee results that endure.

The 50-years-of-omerta promise shows just how true that is.  Not only do they love the power, they also want to use that power to keep voters from discovering just how much they love it.  There hasn’t been a better argument made for a constitutional amendment to either go to a flat tax or getting rid of the income tax system altogether.


Related Posts:

Breaking on Hot Air

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

Swine of the Land, with apologies to the clean critters!

Schadenfreude on July 25, 2013 at 2:04 PM

We, The People has just been officially stricken from the Constitution.

Been replaced by “We, the Congress” soon to be followed by “Me, The President.”

It’ll take three years at least to become naturalized, but Liechtenstein is looking better and better each day. Have distant relatives there. Wonder if they will take in a long lost American cousin?

coldwarrior on July 25, 2013 at 2:08 PM

There hasn’t been a better argument made for a constitutional amendment to either go to a flat tax or getting rid of the income tax system altogether.

Plus, make all the lawmakers live transparently under all the laws they make, with NO exceptions, none, not even to one of their constituents/lobbyists.

Otherwise, all politicians, go directly to Hell, and burn, slowly, in the coldest layer.

Schadenfreude on July 25, 2013 at 2:10 PM

There hasn’t been a better argument made for a constitutional amendment to either go to a flat tax or getting rid of the income tax system altogether.

Excellent point. Term Limits are quickly becoming a necessity also.

Bmore on July 25, 2013 at 2:10 PM

As I asked yesterday in the comments for the article in question, how can this possibly withstand an FOIA request?

Chris of Rights on July 25, 2013 at 2:10 PM

Why even have laws?

libfreeordie on July 25, 2013 at 12:02 AM

Schadenfreude on July 25, 2013 at 2:11 PM

The Most Transparent Senate Evah!!

Bitter Clinger on July 25, 2013 at 2:11 PM

Recall Hatch.

Schadenfreude on July 25, 2013 at 2:11 PM

One of Palin’s biggest mistakes. Backing Hatch.

Bmore on July 25, 2013 at 2:11 PM

As I asked yesterday in the comments for the article in question, how can this possibly withstand an FOIA request?

Chris of Rights on July 25, 2013 at 2:10 PM

They’ll just redact every word in the document.

Obama has been doing it his whole presidency.

Bitter Clinger on July 25, 2013 at 2:13 PM

It’ll take three years at least to become naturalized, but Liechtenstein is looking better and better each day. Have distant relatives there. Wonder if they will take in a long lost American cousin?

coldwarrior on July 25, 2013 at 2:08 PM

I like New Zealand. Great climate. Beaches. Sure there’s an earthquake or two, particularly on the north island, but they usually aren’t that bad. And the place is small enough that it gets left out of most international affairs.

They also have a relatively fiscally conservative government, but with socially liberal ideas, kind of a libertarian paradise in many ways.

Chris of Rights on July 25, 2013 at 2:13 PM

What else to expect from politicians who all practice hypocrisy & secrecy. They are for themselves, enmeshed in power & greed & beholden only to the highest bidder.

One only has to look at our royal family, King & Queen Obama, who live lavishly, take exotic vacations, & are fine examples of do as I say, not as I do.

Do we have any honest representatives anywhere? The answer is a resounding “no”.
It doesn’t matter what we, the people want, just what they, the lobbyists want.

Belle on July 25, 2013 at 2:16 PM

Didn’t we fight a long war about 225 years ago over this sort of thing?

Who are these jackasses to decide that as representatives of the people that their ideas and suggestions will be hidden from us?

It’s long past time for *comment deleted by the HotGas Safe Comment System*

Bishop on July 25, 2013 at 2:18 PM

Chris of Rights on July 25, 2013 at 2:13 PM

And also the last place that will be taken over by the Islamokazis because they’re literally out in the middle of nowhere. Of course, all it would take to take over New Zealand are a couple of whaling ships because they have no defense to speak of.

Steve Eggleston on July 25, 2013 at 2:19 PM

I can’t see them ever repealing the income tax, but it wouldn’t surprise me if eventually they added a consumption tax on top of it.

Government at all levels is out of money. To keep their power, politicians need to find new ways to get it as badly as they hunger to keep finding new ways to spend it.

Tax reform? Not on your life.

Liam on July 25, 2013 at 2:21 PM

Each submission will also be given its own ID number and be kept on password-protected servers, with printed versions kept in locked safes.

Is that where the keep the double secret probation docs too?

Happy Nomad on July 25, 2013 at 2:22 PM

These politicians are scum. Take taxation out of their hands and force them to pass the FAIR TAX!

NOMOBO on July 25, 2013 at 2:24 PM

It’s long past time for *comment deleted by the HotGas Safe Comment System*

Bishop on July 25, 2013 at 2:18 PM

+ at least 200 million Americans

Schadenfreude on July 25, 2013 at 2:26 PM

I say we take off and nuke DC from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

The Rogue Tomato on July 25, 2013 at 2:30 PM

Locked up with the birth certificate?

wolly4321 on July 25, 2013 at 2:31 PM

One of Palin’s biggest mistakes. Backing Hatch.

Bmore on July 25, 2013 at 2:11 PM

that list keeps growing. guess she might wanna review her “vetting” process, huh?

chasdal on July 25, 2013 at 2:36 PM

Perhaps. Seems her track record is still fairly stellar.

Bmore on July 25, 2013 at 2:40 PM

The congress has devolved into such a charade of its former self, not one of the founding fathers would recognize it. They would take a blowtorch to that institution if they were here!

This line of ‘law making’ will lead to the same types of tax laws already on the books with 50 years of shielding from public scrutiny. I take it there will be no hearings then? Who needs the public to be informed when we have the anointed ones within the Senate to grace us with their omnipotence!

We need to get these numb-nuts new jobs, they apparently have no idea how to do their current ones. The world needs ditch diggers too!

Patriot Vet on July 25, 2013 at 2:40 PM

How brilliant was the book Animal Farm…unbelievable.

If their would only be one book mandatory to read and study, it would be Animal Farm.

These “pigs” just can’t get enough…

right2bright on July 25, 2013 at 2:42 PM

their=there

right2bright on July 25, 2013 at 2:42 PM

There hasn’t been a better argument made for a constitutional amendment to either go to a flat tax or getting rid of the income tax system altogether.

Excellent point. Term Limits are quickly becoming a necessity also.

Bmore on July 25, 2013 at 2:10 PM

Term limits, overhaul of our tax system and drastic reduction in the size of the federal government overall.

hawkeye54 on July 25, 2013 at 2:43 PM

consumption tax

The only true fair way to tax a people, so that means we will never do it. Writing tax laws and loopholes is Congress meal ticket. There is no way on this earth that is ever going to change short of 1776 V2.

Johnnyreb on July 25, 2013 at 2:44 PM

Sometimes I don’t even realize I’m putting bait out.

Breadball?

Bmore on July 25, 2013 at 2:44 PM

One of Palin’s biggest mistakes. Backing Hatch.

Bmore on July 25, 2013 at 2:11 PM

that list keeps growing. guess she might wanna review her “vetting” process, huh?

chasdal on July 25, 2013 at 2:36 PM

Hardly….but you keep getting your Digs in Ya hear?

ToddPA on July 25, 2013 at 2:46 PM

The Senate is Wheeling/Dealing/Scamming!!!

canopfor on July 25, 2013 at 2:50 PM

Carnac the Magnificent holds envelope to head: Zis-Boom-Bah

Carnac opens the envelope and reads: The sound an exploding sheep makes….

d1carter on July 25, 2013 at 2:51 PM

Can’t even begin to think about how hard the lobbyist will be hitting up the Senators. It would be a dream come true for them, and the Senators.
Rewrite the tax code without accountability or oversight.

Oh goody, indeed !

Jabberwock on July 25, 2013 at 2:58 PM

Does ANYONE in Washington have a SPINE, the B@LLS to stand up for what is right, or is everyone’s SOUL FOR SALE? Baucus’ & Hatch’s Constituents should immediately be planning on how to get them out of Washington due to their cowardice and spineless eagerness to betray them. Also, every single politician who requested anonymous exemptions should be IDED so THEIR consituents can immediatly begin planning on how to kick their sorry @$$e$ out of office, too!

easyt65 on July 25, 2013 at 3:01 PM

Hardly….but you keep getting your Digs in Ya hear?

ToddPA on July 25, 2013 at 2:46 PM

rubio, flake, ayotte, mccain, toomey, rick scott, scott walker is flirting w/ becoming an embarrasment. and she listed john thune on her site, is she really trying to take credit for john thune being elected??

chasdal on July 25, 2013 at 3:02 PM

BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAABE!!!!!

My googly-eyed beauty is back!

CurtZHP on July 25, 2013 at 3:11 PM

They just want to make sure the younger senators are out of office by then.

KenInIL on July 25, 2013 at 3:12 PM

We now have a legislative branch made up mostly of cowards. They refuse to do the right thing, for fear they might lose a vote. They’re already talking about primarying Republicans so the Democrats will retain control of the Senate. DOn’t get me wrong, the Republicans need to be dealt with, but the Democrats have no desire to do the right thing and Pravda and Izvestia never hold them accountable.

There are few people in Congress I trust, none are Democrats, but only a few are Republicans, the rest of them don’t meet the requirements for trust.

bflat879 on July 25, 2013 at 3:40 PM

Time for action?

A solid ground-game for GOTV would make a strong start.
New representatives need to be elected.

That will never happen without a strong team leading at the local-level.

Perfesser on July 25, 2013 at 3:57 PM

Here’s hoping for enough new senators to come in and pass a law that says it will all be public knowledge asap.

Then, all of the zombies left in the senate will have to answer to what they did and did not want to keep in there.

JadeNYU on July 25, 2013 at 4:30 PM

Here is some information I think the government would find most useful insofar as crushing the likes of people like me. I am being totally transparent here:

******************************************************************
******************************************************************
******************************************************************
******************************************************************
************** REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED ***************
******************************************************************
******************************************************************
******************************************************************
******************************************************************

Thank you, Mr. President and Congress, for showing me the light of transparency.

Turtle317 on July 25, 2013 at 4:32 PM

Real reform would be to get rid of the current income-tax structure altogether

Real reform would be to get rid of the cronyism involved in our elected representatives’ everyday lives. Bought and paid for, every one of them.

Kissmygrits on July 25, 2013 at 4:34 PM

Tax reform? Pffffft! We can’t even get them to protect us from the nsa must less the irs.

Kissmygrits on July 25, 2013 at 4:39 PM

yada yada yada…….
.
Just don’t ever lose the Duke pic. Smile to face, every time.

FlaMurph on July 25, 2013 at 5:11 PM

The 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 tax reform.

Chickensh-ts.

Ward Cleaver on July 25, 2013 at 5:16 PM

Let it burn.

Ward Cleaver on July 25, 2013 at 5:18 PM

ha ha ha, that’s a good one.

Here’s another: In 1986, Congress promised the electorate border security in exchange for amnesty.

Yeah, I know. Never happened.

socalcon on July 25, 2013 at 6:30 PM

Two words for Senators:

Edward.
Snowden.

socalcon on July 25, 2013 at 6:32 PM

I agree with them because our tax break information is classified and who knows what would happen if it fell into the wrong hands/sarc

jaywemm on July 25, 2013 at 6:53 PM

Baucus and Hatch have promised their colleagues that their suggestions will be hermetically sealed in a mayonnaise jar and left on Funk & Wagnall’s doorstep … for fifty years

Don’t be Rubio grade naive and stupid!

No Congress is binding on another Congress. If those are government records they could be released at any time.

If the Democrats retake the Senate and those records are very embarrassing for Republicans they will be revealed two weeks before the general election.

RJL on July 25, 2013 at 7:10 PM

Maybe it is time for another revolution!

GarandFan on July 25, 2013 at 7:43 PM

Justifying every aspect of government should happen once every 4 years. 1 program, 1 vote, 0 deviation and all programs sunset automatically 4 years after original passage unless set for a shorter period and each vote for continuation.

GarandFan on July 25, 2013 at 7:43 PM

I’ll be on the side that the government is not on.

astonerii on July 25, 2013 at 8:00 PM

Res publica = public things, public policy, public discourse and public information.
.
Secrecy is not public.
.
The Republic is dead. Long live the Republic! Secrecy be damned!

ExpressoBold on July 25, 2013 at 9:09 PM