Nobody questions the necessity of keeping America's most vital national security secrets behind closed doors, whether it be the launch protocol for firing the country's nuclear weapons, the Pentagon's strategy for responding to surprise attacks by China or Russia, or tax reform proposals being submitted to the Senate Finance Committee.
Whoa. Wait a minute. What was that last item? Believe it or not, the finance panel's chairman, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and ranking minority member, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, recently assured their senatorial colleagues that nobody will know for 50 years who proposed what concerning which tax credits and deductions should be kept and which should be killed.
It is hard to imagine a better illustration of business-as-usual by Washington's professional politicians than having two grizzled Senate veterans promising to protect the identities of fellow senators protecting special interests as the tax-writing committees in Congress make decisions on things like home mortgage deductions and corporate tax breaks worth trillions of dollars. As Taxpayers for Common Sense recently observed, "we hear it all the time from policymakers. Trust us to do a better job for the taxpayer if we do it behind closed doors — less histrionics, less playing to the camera, less political posturing, and less need to appeal to constituents and special interests."
There is something else the American people get less of when politicians make decisions in secret, and that's accountability. When nobody knows who is responsible for misguided policies to damage the economy and disrupt people's daily lives, the politicians who vote for bad laws and programs are protected from the consequences of their decisions. And when the politicians don't have to worry about what their votes do to their constituents, they are free to push proposals that benefit special interests. Those special interests in turn show their gratitude in the form of campaign contributions. Freeing a politician from accountability is like giving a thief unlimited access to an ATM. Neither Democrats nor Republicans are immune from the secrecy and spending addictions.
Two prominent recent examples of this process are the 2,000-page Obamacare law and President Obama's $845 billion economic stimulus program. Then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wrote the stimulus program behind closed doors, while Pelosi famously said of Obamacare that "we have to pass it so you can see what's in it." The Obamacare example is doubly ironic because of Obama's campaign promise that C-SPAN cameras would be there for the negotiations on the legislation. Nearly five years after Obama promised the stimulus program would restore economic growth, Americans are learning about the "new normal" of "jobless recoveries." As for Obamacare, the president is desperately searching for ways to buy enough time by delaying starting dates to somehow fix the unfixable.
James Madison once said, "a popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce, or a tragedy, or perhaps both." He must have been given advance notice of the Baucus-Hatch proposal.