Senators’ tax-loophole suggestions to be kept secret for 50 years. Huh?

In a move that Business Week calls something that might have been “dreamed up by a 10-year-old after watching Thunderball,” the Senate Finance Committee plans to keep its members’ ideas for new and renewed tax loopholes under wraps until 2064. Wait, what?

The Senate Finance Committee is in charge of writing and rewriting the U.S. tax code. This year, the committee’s leadership is going with what they’re calling a “blank-slate” approach. They want to rewrite the tax code from scratch, wiping out all existing tax loopholes and giveaways, and either creating new ones or reconstituting some of the old favorites. The process they’ve been using involves asking members of the committee to submit their ideas for new, revived and revised tax breaks.

The deadline for these double-super-secret tax loophole preferences was July 26, 2013.

According to The Hill, here’s how it works:

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.

…Under the confidential procedures set by the Finance panel, other committee staffers will only be allowed to handle senators’ suggestions if supervised by at least of the 10 authorized staffers.

Both the Democratic and Republican sides will receive a copy of a submission, and authorized staffers are supposed to log when copies of those proposals are made, who made them and how many.

The submissions can be released publicly, the memo says, if they’re scrubbed of any way of identifying the senator behind them.

Ostensibly, the promise of secrecy is a way to encourage otherwise reluctant Senators to contribute their ideas–because it would be too scary to submit them with their names actually attached to them!

Given the mess known as the U.S. Tax Code, starting over actually sounds like an intriguing—if not totally practical—idea. But the way they’re going about it is about as undemocratic as it could possibly be: Committee members who submit their preferences have been assured that their ideas will be kept secret, to protect themselves from lobbyists and citizens who have other ideas.

Right. It would be such a bother to have citizens—constituents and taxpayers, that is—know what their representatives are doing and saying regarding taxes. We need to kept our constitutionally elected representatives safe from public scrutiny.

And, of course, secrecy will “protect” them from lobbyists. Really? You mean the lobbyists who suggest—I mean dictate —the very loopholes that Senators are proposing—I mean protecting. Senators don’t want to be protected from lobbyists: Lobbyists pay for their campaigns, for gawd’s sake. We’re the ones who need protecting.

Business Week sums it up this way:

…Any senator with a tax plea so secret it has to be physically locked away is definitely, absolutely not requesting it for the voters.

What a notion: Senators have the right to conduct this essential, public business in the dark, and to hide their actions in some kind of digital vault until we’re all practically, or actually, dead.  I was unhappy when the Warren Commission Report on the JFK assassination was locked away for 75 years, under the pretext of national security or some such thing. But this is beyond that. Sure, watching legislative sausage being made is ugly, but building in a  complete  lack of accountability is inexcusable. Baucus and Hatch should be embarrassed, and we should be outraged.