The Senate is engaging in a tax-reform process with a witness-protection-like level of secrecy. For 50 years, no one, except 10 staffers, will know what breaks and deductions each senator decided to excise from the tax code. It's lawmaking of the opaquest sort, but it is easy to see why tax-code suggestions are mired in such risk for lawmakers.
Lobbying is an enormously powerful and profitable business. In 2012, interests groups spent $3.3 billion telling their lawmakers how the law can better work for them -- and not just on tax issues. That sounds like a lot, but for industry, it is definitely worth it. For every dollar an interest group invests in lobbying, it can expect a return of $220 in tax breaks, according to researchers at the University of Kansas. That's a 22,000 percent return on investment on an of aggregate of 90 firms in the sample.
So how would those lobbying firms feel if Congress swept out from under them the breaks that they paid so effectively for? Enter the witness protection.
Senators, led by Democrat Max Baucus and Republican Orrin Hatch, want to rework the nation's tax code. They have opted for a "blank slate," which means they want to redesign the tax structure from the bottom up. The goal is to pass a tax overhaul by the end of the year. Senators have until the end of this week to submit their proposals laying out what they think should remain in the tax code.