Senator Max Baucus, the Democrat known as the "Senator from K Street" for his legendary gluttony at the lobbyists' trough, has just decreed a minimum of 50 years of secrecy for the ongoing negotiations over revamping the federal tax code. Baucus is the committee chair of the tax-writing Senate committee, and he and his pal Orrin Hatch have determined that the best way to serve the American people while rewriting the entire tax code is to allow all their colleagues to defend tax loopholes for special interests painlessly -- because the public won't be allowed to know who fought for which bit of corporate welfare until the year 2065.
Yes, you read that right. I wish I was making this up as some sort of bad parody about why the approval rating for Congress is lower than that of cockroaches or communism, but (sadly enough, for us all) this story is actually true. The Hill brings us the shameful details:
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.
An unnamed "Finance Committee aide" helpfully explained the reason for such a move:
"The letter was done at the request of offices to provide some assurance that the committee would not make their submissions public," the aide said. "Sens. Baucus and Hatch are going out of their way to assure their colleagues they will keep the submissions in confidence."
Keeping the submissions confidential for a half century, the aide added, was "standard operating procedure for sensitive materials, including investigation materials."
Sensitive materials? Investigations? So the data must be pretty secret, one assumes. But later on in the article, there's this little gem:
The submissions can be released publicly, the memo says, if they're scrubbed of any way of identifying the senator behind them.
Got that? It's not the information itself which must remain under lock and key for half a century, it is which senator is supporting what massive corporate giveaway -- that's what has to remain secret. Given the average age of the Senate, this will mean that most of these senators will be long dead before the public is allowed to see which one of them is the biggest whore.
Make no mistake about it, that's exactly what Baucus is trying desperately to cover up. Senator I. M. Forsale walks into Baucus's office and says: "Hey, Max, I hear you're rewriting the tax code from top to bottom. Well, I've just come from a fundraiser where I got a whopping big donation from a thingumabob manufacturer, and -- completely coincidentally, of course, no quid pro quo or anything like that (winks at Max, who laughs loudly) -- I'd like to write in a tax provision that allows all thingumabob manufacturers to pay absolutely no tax whatsoever, since I've just been informed that our great country would grind to a halt without a steady supply of thingumabobs. If I write up this proposal, can you keep my name off it until we're celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Civil War?" To which Max can now reply: "Sure thing! I've got you covered!"
In fact, it is near-impossible for any responsible citizen to read the article (or Salon's takedown of the idea, for variety) without experiencing gagging and the urge to vomit while doing so. Don't believe me? Senator John Thune was quoted as approving the idea of locking up these "secrets" for 50 years, calling it "somewhat reassuring." He goes on to say: "I think people will feel a little bit more freedom." By "people" he means "senators" (a debatable concept), and not "the people" as in "We the people..." or anything. And by "freedom" he means "never being held accountable by the voters for our actions," which is not quite the same thing.
Senators will feel "a little bit more freedom," as Thune puts it, because they can sell their services to the highest bidder on K Street, and not have to worry about it ever becoming an election issue for them. They will never have to justify to their constituents the massive tax breaks and other corporate welfare that they are being directly paid to insert into the newly-rewritten tax code. Not only will they be allowed to be whores, but nobody will ever have to know about it.
The whole idea of rewriting the tax code is to "simplify" it and get rid of all the special-interest loopholes which have crept in due to heavy lobbying over the past few decades. That's the entire purpose of the exercise, supposedly. But after hearing that Max Baucus is going to keep all the senators' secrets for fifty freakin' years, I have a prediction to make: if they ever do come up with a bill, it will actually be more complex than what they're trying to replace, and it will have more loopholes and special interest breaks than ever before seen in Washington.
Any member of Congress who has the tiniest doubt as to why the public only gives single-digit approval ratings to the way they do their job, this is Exhibit A. This is the prime example of why the American public is outright disgusted with the way things in Washington operate. Not only are elected officials for sale to the highest bidder, but they can now sell themselves without any fear that the folks back home will ever hear anything about it. Smoking is no longer allowed in the building, but make no mistake about it, the "smoke-filled rooms" still reign supreme in the Capitol building. Thanks a lot, Max and Orrin. You two are now the poster boys for why people hate Congress.
-- Chris Weigant
Cross-posted at The Huffington Post
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant