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Let The Tax Debate Be Held In Secret

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As you may have heard from one of the not-quite-a-handful of media outlets that decided to cover the story, members of Congress working to reform the tax code have decided to conduct their negotiations in secret. [Click here for Daily Show coverage. We removed the video due to autoplay problems.]

Conducting major policy debates in secret strikes many people the wrong way, and rightfully so. Keeping the legislative process in the dark tends to fly in the face of the basic principles of democracy. And yet, we're going applaud our leaders in Washington for perhaps finally making a right call. Not that they'll come up with sensible tax reform, but conducting the process in secret is definitely the right way to do it.

The tax code is full of special interests and any attempt to debate it in public is going to be met with too much resistance, even from people who would gladly accept system-wide reform. If each provision is put up for debate on its own, its supporters will fight for it tooth and nail, and the process quickly becomes gridlocked with no representative daring to offer up his constituents' interests in exchange for someone else's.

The idea that policy debates which involve a multitude of issues none of which seem touchable should be conducted in private is hardly new. It's the same procedure that was used to craft a little piece of law you may know as THE CONSTITUTION. Whole lot of third rail issues there, the big states vs. little states, taxes, individual rights, the national debt, slavery. Members of the Constitutional Convention knew that they couldn't go on record as supporting any small bit of a compromise, but also that the nation would accept the entire package. So, James Madison took notes, and they were kept sealed for 50 years.

Democracy does require transparency, but that is satisfied by the entirety of the law being presented for open debate. All the provisions and compromises are included within the four corners of the bill, and the vote will be televised on the CSPANs. All that's left out is the ability to yell at your congressman for any one particular item.


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