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The Top-Secret Tax-Reform Debate


Congress is flirting with the possibility of doing something responsible, simplifying the tax code by eliminating some benefits such as those related to mortgages and property taxes. In the Senate, various grandees of both parties are pitching ideas to finance committee chairman Max Baucus (D., Mont.).

Perhaps you’d like to know what your man in the Senate is proposing? Good luck with that:

To provide senators political cover and deniability, the committee put all recommendations under a 50-year top-secret classification, and restricted access to them to just 10 staff members.

Let that sink in: a 50-year, top-secret restriction on tax-reform proposals. Not reports on the whereabouts of al-Qaeda goons, not strategy documents for countering a Chi-Com invasion in the Pacific, but some senator’s thoughts on whether you should be able to deduct your mortgage interest. If you are wondering why men such as Julian Assange and Edward Snowden enjoy a substantial degree of public support despite the gentlemen in Washington stamping their feet and shouting about spies and traitors, there’s your answer. It’s axiomatic that a government power that can be abused will be abused, and secrecy powers are a leading source of abuse. We flatter ourselves that we are the leader of the free world, but we cannot even conduct a debate about tax-code reform in public. And that should be no surprise: We cannot collect taxes honestly, either.




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