Dispatches from the Creation Wars

A bill in the Senate that would increase government transparency and accountability has been put on “secret hold” by one or more Senators, who, by Senate rules, can pretty much kill the bill in this manner:

A bill to promote government transparency faces an uncertain future because of a far-from-transparent hold placed upon it in the Senate.

An unknown number of senators have blocked legislation to create a public, searchable Web site of all federal grants and contracts. Senate rules permit any senator to anonymously block consideration of a bill on the floor, effectively killing the measure.

I think the bill doesn’t go nearly far enough. I think it should cover every entity that gets any sort of government largesse. I want to be able to do a simple search and find every tax break or subsidy, every block grant, every instance of liability protection, every research subsidy, every below-market granting of grazing or mineral rights, every exemption from an otherwise applicable law, and so forth. All of these are mechanisms for transferring our tax dollars to corporate bank accounts.

Porkbusters is trying to find out who put it on hold by demanding that each senator explicitly deny doing so. But they need to expand their definition of pork. Pork spending is not just the bridge to nowhere stuff. Remove all of that and you wouldn’t cut the budget by 1%. The real problem is the vast amount of corporate welfare in the budget that is costing us hundreds of billions of dollars.


  1. #1 Ginger Yellow
    August 30, 2006

    How come I’ve never heard of this provision before? What the hell is the justification for it? Why hasn’t it been used more often? Why does all the attention focus on filibusters, if anybody can kill a bill single-handedly?

  2. #2 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    August 30, 2006

    Good question Ginger, I was about to ask the same thing.

  3. #3 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    August 30, 2006

    Oh how surprising. The list of the ones who haven’t denied they are blocking are all Republicans. Ted “Series of Tubes” “My big bridge is worth it” Stevens is one of them. How shocking.

  4. #4 Stogoe
    August 30, 2006

    It’s a ‘secret hold’. No one has to tell anyone about it.

  5. #5 Kate
    August 30, 2006

    Aren’t filibusters primarily used to block appointments of candidates? I can only remember it being used to block judicial nominations and the like (off the top of my head).

  6. #6 MattXIV
    August 30, 2006

    The culprit appears to be, unsurprisingly, Stevens.

  7. #7 Ed Brayton
    August 30, 2006

    This is the first I’d ever heard of secret holds as well, which I can only assume is because they are a rarely used parliamentarian trick. I’ve long been aware of whath they call “blue slipping”, where a Senator can hold up the nomination of a judge from his own state essentially forever.

  8. #8 Ginger Yellow
    August 30, 2006

    TPM is reporting that Coburn claimed it was Stevens a while back.

    Kate: mainly, yes, and presumably this “hold” provision does’t apply to nominations. But you do get plenty of filibusters or threatened filibusters of legislation. More curiously, though, if this provision is so effective, why has nobody used it to stop some of the Bush administration’s worst legislation, or the AUMF for Iraq? Why didn’t Republicans use it for some of Clinton’s legislation during the periods when they were in the minority?

  9. #9 Jeff Hebert
    August 30, 2006

    Ed Said:

    I’ve long been aware of whath they call “blue slipping”, where a Senator can hold up the nomination of a judge from his own state essentially forever.

    The Republicans changed this rule when they took control of the Senate, you can’t do that any more.

  10. #10 Keanus
    August 30, 2006

    For a little history on secret holds in the Senate visit TPMmuckraker. That site in general is also a good one to visit for low down on current government hi-jinks in Washington.

  11. #11 Keanus
    August 30, 2006

    Kwickcode formatting got messed up TPMmuckraker is at http://www.tpmmuckraker.com/archives/001435.php.

  12. #12 Troy Britain
    August 30, 2006

    Next we’ll probably hear that a certain Senator Wormer has put the bill on Double Secret Hold.

  13. #13 Tiax
    August 30, 2006

    CNN reports it to be Ted Stevens

  14. #14 nicole
    August 30, 2006

    Ever since this story broke I’ve been surprised at how many people were unaware of this secret hold provision. I knew I was very familiar with it, and I didn’t know why I knew more about this unusual rule than a bunch of (part-time) pundits…until I realized that it had figured into an episode of the West Wing. Then I was a little ashamed.

  15. #15 Ted
    August 30, 2006

    I think the bill doesn’t go nearly far enough. I think it should cover every entity that gets any sort of government largesse.

    How would it do that? Government largess can be obtained by omission (failure to enforce); by releasing public lands back to favored “communities”, by favorable actions to friends and at the requests for friends, by reducing emission standards, and so on.

    And what about the black programs and the military budget? Will we get a line item view of how many golden hammers and screws get spent? How much went to sweetheart deals like Blackwater, Custer Battles or other merc firms?

    It is interesting to imagine how a database like this can be used to bludgeon the parties and show instances for abuse of each party with the help of the blogs. One side will shout cronyism and corruption, the other will shout entitlements and welfare. Still others will accuse of statism and tyranny through wrongful and wasteful taxation.

    I would certainly love more transparency, but is that liable to happen with the blogosphere afire? And lets consider the upcoming elections, where the congress is liable to split, and even if it’s not, the executive branch can use this new transparency to its ends.

    I’m just thinking that it may undermine the workings of a constitutional republic to have an ongoing chorus of citizen anger over taxes as the driver of social policy. Based on orchestrated talking points emanating from Fox or DailyKos.

  16. #16 Ed Brayton
    August 30, 2006

    We can’t account for every single dollar or every possible benefit. But I’m advocating that we go as far as we can in that regard. As for the accusations of cronyism and bribery that might result, my reaction is: Good. That might help put a stop to cronyism and bribery. I not only favor having a searchable database of every single tax break and tax subsidy, I think it should be crosslinked with public records on campaign donations. If Exxon got a $10 billion tax subsidy, or liability protection that saved them billions of dollars they would have had to spend cleaning up a dumpsite, I also want to know how much money they paid to our legislators to get it passed. That doesn’t undermine the workings of our constitutional republic; it gives us a powerful weapon for restoring that republic (which long ago was sold to the highest bidder).

  17. #17 Keanus
    August 30, 2006

    I”m with Ed on this. There is nothing like a little sunshine to keep the fungus in check and make the rats stay in their holes.

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