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August 28, 2006
The Secret Hold In An Open Society

The hold in the Senate on the Coburn/Obama federal budget database bill has made national news, as people wonder who the anonymous obstructor could be. Hot Air has a video of Brit Hume giving the S 2590 secret hold story national coverage, and he notes that almost three-quarters of the Senate has yet to state whether they instituted the hold. Porkbusters has a running update on the explicit denials from individual Senators. Only 25 have definitively stated that they had nothing to do with the hold so far. TPM Muckraker says they have confirmed 58 Senators that are in the clear. That still leaves more than 40% who haven't bothered to address the issue. I address this in today's Heritage Foundation blog post, but I want to extend my remarks here at CQ.

This entire episode should shame every member of the Upper Chamber. Using a cheap and secret political manuever to block passage of a bill that would do more to provide open government than anything since the Freedom of Information Act is not ironic, it's cynical beyond belief. If anyone needed an example of why the nation needs S 2590, this display of political cowardice and secrecy gives perhaps the clearest one possible.

What do these men and women think we elect them to do in Washington DC? We expect our representatives to champion our interests, not cover their own expansive posteriors. The only interests served in obstructing the Coburn-Obama federal budget database is that of corruption and undue influence. At least one Senator -- and it could be more -- does not want taxpayers to know how Congress spends our money. I can think of few better reasons to kick someone out of politics for good.

The leaders of both parties should take this opportunity to eliminate the Senate tradition of secret holds. In an open society, few political manuevers should ever be secret -- only those explicitly concerning national security or private information. This hold does not qualify as either. Allowing one member of the chamber to deny the other 99 an opportunity to pass legislation is completely undemocratic, worse than a filibuster. Its secrecy only encourages political cowardice, a trait we see too often in other circumstances anyway, and it denies the American public the transparency in government we deserve.

At the very least, Bill Frist and Harry Reid should strip the mechanism of its secrecy. Some have defended the practice by posing a hypothetical situation where Congress attempts some "midnight legislation" to pass bills without enough public notice. Defenders argue that the hold allows one Senator to stall action until the public can mobilize on an issue. All that sounds great, except it doesn't explain why a hold under those circumstances has to be secret.

Frist and Reid should demand a public accounting from their caucuses. Failing that, the Senate should move for a rule change barring the practice of secret holds, just as they did with blue slips on judicial nominations a few years ago. Having these kind of star-chamber practices in the people's branch of the world's oldest democratic republic is a disgrace, a cowardly demonstration unfitting of the American tradition.

UPDATE: TPM Muckraker has a comprehensive list of all Senators who have answered with an explicit "no". I note that Harry Reid is among the missing here, but my guess is that the Secret Holder will be either Ted "Bridge To Nowhere" Stevens, Trent "Porkbusters Annoy Me" Lott, or Robert Byrd, the man who has managed to use pork to get his name everywhere in West Virginia except rest-stop toilet seats. I'd check the next transportation bill to see if that oversight gets corrected, too.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 28, 2006 9:33 PM

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» Who is holding up the Obama/Coburn federal budget open database bill? from Sister Toldjah
Captain Ed is on the case, and has background on the story along with links-o-rama. Mary Katharine wonders if it’s Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). The “quite good-looking” (per Patterico) Allah has video of the adorable Brit Hume talking... [Read More]

Tracked on August 28, 2006 9:57 PM

» Porkbusterspalooza? from The Political Pit Bull
The campaign to unmask the "Secret Senator" who has put a hold on a the Obama-Coburn Bill that will create an online database of all federal grants and contracts has gone mainsteam. Not only that, it also seems to be... [Read More]

Tracked on August 28, 2006 10:29 PM

» The Secret Hold on Truth from America's North Shore Journal
Remember that scene from Frankenstien when the villagers come with their pitchforks and torches? We’re looking for the Senator with the secret hold. ... [Read More]

Tracked on August 29, 2006 8:08 AM


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