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Two Transparency Bills "Held" In One Week?

April 19, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

Robert Novak has an interesting article outlining how Jim DeMint’s (R, SC) stand-alone bill to require full disclosure of earmarks played out in the Senate on April 12. Novak’s main point is that senate Democrats kept DeMint’s bill at bay to allow Robert Byrd (D, WV) (pictured at right) the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, to enact the tough-on-earmarks rule before him, in order to hold the appearance of Democrats as the pro-transparency party.

>… the Democrats prepared carefully. Eleven minutes before DeMint spoke, Byrd’s Appropriations Committee announced “an unprecedented policy of transparency and accountability.” Democrats were not relying on a freshman senator this time. Byrd was presiding as the Senate’s president pro tem, and Majority Whip Durbin objected and insisted a full ethics bill must be passed. “It is not the right way to accomplish our goal,” he said.
>That leaves the door open for earmarks on authorization bills, like the “Bridge to Nowhere.” “So,” Coburn told the Senate after Durbin’s objection, “we will play the same game but one step further back.”

Another part of this thing that is worth looking at is the way Democrats kept this bill from coming to a vote . In the paragraph quoted below, the same article explains that the Democratic majority did not concede unanimous consent and thus blocked the bill from being voted on that day. The Roll Call article that is quoted explicitly states that Democrats needed more time to look over the bill, but besides that, it went down similarly to how S.223, the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act, was secretly held:

>…on April 12, DeMint brought up his rule for passage under unanimous consent. Freshman Sen. Bob Menendez, on duty for the Democratic leadership, objected. Menendez claimed, reporter John Stanton wrote in the Roll Call newspaper, “that despite numerous news stories and notifications from DeMint that he intended to seek the UC [unanimous consent], Democrats had not been given adequate time to review the proposed amendment.”

And here is how Paul Blumenthal of the Sunlight Foundation described what happened the other day with S.223:

>Today Russ Feingold and Dianne Feinstein brought S.223, the Senate electronic disclosure bill, to the floor for a unanimous consent vote. When they asked if there was any objection Sen. Lamar Alexander, filling in for the minority leadership, announced that he had an objection, indicating that some Senator in the Republican caucus has placed a secret hold on the disclosure bill.

Now, we can’t be sure about anyone’s actual intentions. Novak is saying that the earmark bill, which is simple and should be quite popular, was held up so that Democrats could beat Republicans to it. Likewise, it seems like Republicans are holding the Electronic Disclosure Act -not because they need more time as Instapundit’s Reublican insider described it - but because some one of them objects to the bill.

Either way, as The Sunlight Foundation’s Ellen Miller put it, "a hold is a hold is a hold, unless you want to debate what the definition of “is” is." And, since this holding procedure is being used by both parties to manipulate popular transparency legislation to suit the fancy of a few, it is time for the rule to be revised.

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