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Busted by the bloggers


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Busted by the bloggers

Published September 1, 2006

To the right of the masthead at the Web site porkbusters.org is a quote attributed to former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott: "I'll just say this about the so-called porkbusters. I'm getting damn tired of hearing from them."

Sens. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) are probably damn tired of hearing from them too, but taxpayers ought to listen up--and applaud. The porkbusters led a pack of bloggers who outed the two senators for bottling up a bill meant to help the public track how its tax dollars are spent.

Sponsored by Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the measure would create a searchable online database of federal grants and contracts.

An unnamed senator (or senators, as it turned out) was blocking that bill from coming to the floor. Under an arcane Senate rule, any member who has concerns about a bill can block it--anonymously. Party leaders know the blocker's identity but don't have to tell anyone, even the bill's sponsor.

When the porkbusters learned about the so-called "secret hold," they issued a call for bloggers to contact their own senators and demand to know: Are you the anonymous blocker? Readers at TPMmuckraker.com and GOPprogress.com joined in, and within days they had denials from 97 senators.

That's when Stevens decided to `fess up.

The bloggers still weren't satisfied.

By Thursday, Byrd was the only senator who continued to duck the question. Noting that Byrd's "penchant for pork would probably win him the Pork Crown if he weren't saddled with minority status," TPMmuckraker pressed for an answer. By midafternoon, Byrd had admitted he placed a hold on the bill--and said he has now released it.

When they were caught, Stevens and Byrd offered lots of blather about why they were preventing taxpayers from finding out how their money is spent.

Byrd's office said he just wanted to slow things down so the bill could get a thorough and open debate. Stevens' staffers said he was concerned about the cost, and he wanted a cost-benefit analysis and assurances that the database wouldn't create more bureaucracy and blah blah blah. Stevens could have brought all this up while the bill was in committee, but he skipped those hearings.

A more likely motivation: Stevens was mad because Coburn had tried to block a $223 million appropriation for Alaska's infamous "bridge to nowhere" that Stevens inserted in last year's federal highway bill.

It's a good day for taxpayers and the bloggers who got to the truth. And a bad day for secrecy in the U.S. Senate.


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