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But does the government have the authority to actually cancel that entire feature of these accounts, even accounts that have been open and funded for years?

Yes. Congress is pretty much free to change the laws as they see fit. The only limits (as far as I can tell) are they can't do anything unconstitutional, and they generally want to get re-elected.

And if so, is there any way to safeguard against this?

No. Well, except watch for whom you vote.

In many discussions on this topic over the years, the general consensus seems to be that if Congress does change the Roth IRA/401k taxation, they would probably either make the balance in the account on some date tax free, or they would exempt any previously taxed contributions and rollovers from a second tax when withdrawn. If they don't at least do the latter, they would be taxing some money twice. I don't know if that amounts to a law of attainder (which is unconstitutional), but I'd hate to have to argue that it isn't. And doing the former would at least give them some hope of re-election.

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