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Surprise! Senate Finance Committee’s “Blank Slate” Definitely Not Transparent

July 25, 2013

blank slateSenator Max Baucus may be retiring at the end of his current term, but that’s not soon enough to save us from his lame-brained efforts to reform the nation’s tax code. He has teamed with Republican Senator and tea party target Orrin Hatch in a “bipartisan” effort to “wipe the slate clean” and start fresh on the tax code. After all, who better to forge a bipartisan solution  than two senators reviled by the base of their own parties?

If you’re unfamiliar with what’s going on, Baucus and Hatch announced last month that they would begin work on tax reform with a “blank slate”, eliminating almost every tax credit, deduction, and exemption from the tax code and forcing their Senate colleagues to defend anything they want to reinstate. This plan has been roundly criticized as a very bad idea, which must be why Baucus and Hatch lurve it so much.

It is expected that such an effort will result in shifting the tax burden from the rich to the middle class, and will not raise revenues. Even Bruce Bartlett, former policy adviser to Ronald Reagan, didn’t pull any punches about the plan: “The idea that we can wipe the slate clean and start from scratch is ridiculous pie-in-the-sky thinking and an abrogation of responsibility by the Senate’s two principal leaders on tax issues.”

Essentially, Bartlett makes the argument that the finance duo should do their job and put out an actual proposal of tax expenditures they think are worthy of elimination. Instead, they’re shirking their duty and putting the onus on the other 98 senators. But see? This way, no one has to publicly argue for the elimination of popular tax credits. But don’t worry! Lest you think that any senator is going to have to go on record making the case for the inclusion of unpopular tax breaks for special interests, Baucus and Hatch have a solution for that, too:

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.

[…]

“Several senators have said to me how important that is to them,” Baucus said. “It’s quite significant.”

It also illustrates the 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. [The Hill]

It’s often said that the public doesn’t really want to see the sausage being made; but, just in case any of you do, Max Baucus and Orrin Hatch say you’ll have to wait ’til 2064. As if the legislative process weren’t already opaque enough to make you queasy, this complete lack of transparency, not to mention accountability, is enough to make you gag. Forgive me for my naïve belief that public officials should do their work in public.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. July 26, 2013 4:39 am

    They’ll retort that there’s no Sunshine Rule in the constitution.

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