And the Mystery Senator Is…

By Asa Eslocker

Aug 30, 2006 5:30pm

A spokesman for Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) came forward today and admitted Stevens was the senator who has placed a hold on a bill that would allow U.S. taxpayers to see where their tax money is going.

With several reports of Congressional scandals in the news, two senators proposed a bill that could create a user-friendly, public search engine that would disclose all federal contracts, grants, loans and other forms of government financial assistance.

Operated by the Office of Management and Budget, the free internet database could be used for such searches as "Halliburton," "FEMA no-bid contracts" and "Alaskan Bridges."  Results would yield the name, entity, geography, amounts of spending, program sources, services being performed and who in Congress supported which appropriations.

"Technology has made it possible to fulfill our founders’ vision of enabling all citizens to understand our nation’s finances, investigate abuses and hold elected officials accountable," says Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), who along with Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), is one of the bill’s primary co-sponsors.

Before summer recess, the bill, called the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, was passed unanimously by the Senate Homeland Security Committee and "hotlined," which means the bill was put on the fast track to passage by the Senate.  But Sen. Stevens stalled that process by putting a hold on the bill.

"A hold is a Senator objecting to unanimous consent to bring up a bill. It’s at least one senator or multiple senators that didn’t want this to move too fast right before vacation," explained Steve Ellis, the Vice President of Programs for Taxpayers for Common Sense, a non-partisan budget watchdog group, before it was revealed that Stevens was the senator who placed the hold on the bill. And even though some holds are used to give legislators more time after a bill passes in committee, Ellis, like many others, believes that there could be a more nefarious motive behind Stevens’ secret hold.  "Some senator is hoping that because the time schedule is so compressed in September it will never come up, and the bill would die in Congress." If used in this manner, Ellis says, secret holds are the "antithesis to freedom and democracy and doing things in a transparent manner." Congress returns from summer recess in less than a week at which time Sen. Coburn and other senators plan to push the bill by petitioning Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) for a roll call vote in order to override Stevens’ hold. If the Senate leadership doesn’t take the reins to push this popular accountability bill, Ellis says it is ultimately the public who may be the victim of this secret hold tactic.  "The more that we can understand as to where tax dollars are being spent, the more criticism for wasteful spending, the more engaged the American public can be in the democratic process." TPMmuckracker.com was the first to reveal that Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) had placed the secret hold on the bill.

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