Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) held up a bill that would create a free, searchable database of government contracts and grants because he was worried about the proposal's price tag, his spokesman told me this afternoon. Its cost has been estimated at $15 million.
Stevens' office has asked Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), the sponsor of the bill, for "a cost-benefit analysis to make sure this does not create an extra layer of unnecessary bureaucracy,” spokesman Aaron Saunders said. The Senator “wanted to make sure that this wasn’t going to be a huge cost to the taxpayer and that it achieves the goal which the bill is meant to achieve.”
Saunders added that Stevens' hold was not "secret," and that he would back the bill if the analysis shows that "it achieves its goal and it achieves its goal well."
But Sen. Coburn's spokesman John Hart questioned Stevens' motive. "The only reason to oppose this bill is if he has something to hide," Hart said.
Hart said that Stevens, who's on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, failed to attend any hearings on the bill, an assertion backed up by vote tallies. "If he had concerns, he should have addressed them in regular order rather than blocking something that will benefit millions of taxpayers," Hart said. He added that after Stevens' office raised the concerns, Coburn's office requested a meeting, but never got one.
The Congressional Budget Office has calculated that Coburn's proposal would cost "$4 million in 2007 and about $15 million [total] over the 2007-2011 period." By comparison, Stevens -- who's been called the "King of Pork" by one government watchdog -- was recently publicly lambasted for his appropriation of more than $200 million for the so-called "Bridge to Nowhere," which would link Ketchikan, Alaska (population 8,900) with its airport on Gravina Island (population 50).
Despite the fact that Stevens' office has refused until today to admit that he placed the hold, Saunders said, "This senator does not place secret holds.”
A number of senators' offices initially refused to comment in response to both public and media requests as to whether they'd placed the hold. Sens. Hatch and Crapo both waived that general practice in light of Majority Leader Bill Frist's request that senators respond to bloggers' and readers' questions. TPMm still awaits confirmation from two senators, Byrd and Bennett, that they do not have a hold on the bill.
Sen. Coburn initially revealed Stevens' identity as the holder two weeks ago at a town meeting in Sallisaw, Oklahoma -- but that revelation seems to have been unintended. It was an "off the cuff" comment, his spokesman told me.
Update: As to why constituents, TPMm, and others weren't told when they called Stevens' office that he had placed the hold, his spokesman just explained, "Sen. Stevens was traveling, the staffers that worked this issue had also been traveling – so it was hard for our people to get the information about this particular hold.”