George Washington thought the Senate should be the “cooling saucer” in which legislation is tempered and slowed. It certainly went above and beyond its call to duty this August. Indeed, for one bill designed to make the federal government’s taxpayer expenditures more transparent, the Senate acted more like a deep freeze than a cooling saucer.
The bill, co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Okla. and Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Ill., was scheduled for debate before the Senate left town for its August recess. Unfortunately, its progress was halted by an anonymous hold -- a Senate practice wherein any one Senator can inform leadership of an intention to filibuster a piece of legislation.
However, the bill has strong support from a bipartisan array of government accountability groups and bloggers, and they may still be able to get it acted upon when the Senate returns from recess next week.
After all, it was these groups and bloggers who assembled over the month of August under the Porkbusters banner. They called every Senate office on the Hill, demanding to know who was holding up the transparency bill. Their efforts did not go unnoticed. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist personally interacted with some in the coalition and then sent a missive to all of his Senate colleagues asking them to be forthcoming with members of the Porkbusting community who were calling offices.
Some Senators initially were reticent to acknowledge whether or not they’d placed the hold -- not, they said, because they had something to hide, but because they thought that commenting on the placement of a hold for a short term gain would disrupt their ability to employ the hold in the future should they need to do so. But Frist’s request allowed Senators who shared that concern to make what some of them see as a “one time exception.” It also produced a culprit: Alaskan Republican Sen. Ted Stevens.
After being deluged with phone calls from the Porkbusting community, Stevens’ Senate office finally fessed up. An unnamed Stevens staffer told the blog TPMmuckraker that “Sen. Stevens does have a hold on the bill.” After that the cat was out of the bag and the Porkbusting community had its greatest victory to date in the fight against wasteful government spending.
What is “a hold” anyway?
Tim Chapman is the Director of the Center for Media and Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. and a contributing columnist to Townhall.com
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