Saturday, August 26, 2006
Cox News Service
WASHINGTON — In an ironic twist, legislation that would open up the murky world of government contracting to public scrutiny has been derailed by a secret parliamentary maneuver.
An unidentified senator placed a "secret hold" on legislation introduced by Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., that would create a searchable database of government contracts, grants, insurance, loans and financial assistance, worth $2.5 trillion last year. The database would bring transparency to federal spending and be as simple to use as conducting a Google search.
The measure had been unanimously passed in a voice vote last month by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. It was on the fast track for floor action before Congress recessed Aug. 4 when someone put a hold on the measure.
Now the bill is in political limbo. Under Senate rules, unless the senator who placed the hold decides to lift it, the bill will not be brought up for a vote.
"It really is outrageous to do this in the dead of night as Congress is recessing," said Gary Bass, executive director of OMB Watch, a budget watchdog group based in Washington. "The public has a right to know how the government spends money."
The secret hold has prompted conservative and liberal government watchdog groups to band together to "smoke out" the senator responsible.
Porkbusters.org, for example, posted photographs of all senatorial suspects underneath a bold-faced headline asking, "Who is the Secret Holder?"
It remains unclear if the senator responsible will be able to withstand the pressure from the broad array of groups and senators supporting the bill.
"It really is a mystery, not only who did it, but what the rationale could possibly be and why they would go to the mat on this," said Ellen Miller, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, a new Washington-based nonprofit devoted to helping the public understand Congress through the Internet. "There is no conceivable, rational explanation for killing this legislation unless they have something to hide."