He Said, He Said: Republican In-Fighting Surrounds the Secret Hold

By Asa Eslocker

Aug 31, 2006 1:35pm

After Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) was officially outed for holding back a bill allowing the public easy web access to government contracts, new tensions are rising between old rivals about what really happened. Aaron Saunders, Sen. Stevens’ spokesperson, tells ABC News that after the bill passed the Homeland Security Committee, Stevens placed a hold on the bill to give his staff time to submit questions and hear responses from Sen. Coburn, the lead sponsor on the bill.  "There was nothing secret about it," Saunders said. When asked to respond to the widely blogged speculation that Stevens kept the hold secret, Saunders said they notified Coburn’s staff so it was not really a secret. Saunders then quoted Stevens, "This senator does not put secret holds on bills." According to John Hart, Communications Director for Sen. Coburn, "That’s completely false. We had to do our own detective work to discover it was Stevens who placed the bill on hold." Hart says that Stevens’ not only missed the initial hearing on the bill, but also missed the July 28 voice vote when the bill passed unanimously in the Homeland Security Committee.  After learning about Stevens’ hold, Coburn’s office says they have since requested meetings with Stevens’ staff but have yet to hear back. For many watchdog groups this backyard squabble is evidence that there is still too much secrecy in Washington. "I think Sen. Stevens’ response is an attempt to spin the situation. A secret hold means that the public at large did not know, and while Sen. Coburn may have known, it’s sort of senate practice not to disclose that kind of information," according to Ellen Miller, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, a non-profit group advocating more electronic transparency in government. According to Miller however, on the bright side, the involvement of watchdog media from both sides of the political spectrum has helped clear one hurdle for the bill, named the Funding Accountability Bill. "I think there was amazing pressure on Sen. Stevens generated by the blogosphere, in his district, and around the country to come forth and announce that he was the one who had the hold on the bill."

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