Outside editorial: What's gumming up progress

Posted: Wednesday, May 23, 2007

This editorial appeared in The Washington Post:

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We'll use the lull in the attempt to drag a kicking and screaming Senate into modernity - by requiring Senate candidates to file their campaign finance reports electronically - to explain what's gumming up the wheels of progress and how to fix the problem. Said problem is the nettlesome "anonymous hold," that decidedly nontransparent refuge for senators to stop legislation without revealing who they are or why they object.

Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., and Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., sponsored the reporting bill, which passed out of the Rules and Administration committee in March. Since then, committee Chairman Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has had a devil of a time getting the bill passed by unanimous consent by the full Senate. Twice, a Republican senator or senators has objected. Because the opposition was registered anonymously. Feinstein is rightly reticent to send the bill to the floor for a vote, where it would become flypaper for amendments and half-baked "improvements" to the campaign finance laws already on the books.

With the clamor for transparency on Capitol Hill, this is one tradition that ought to die. Now, you're probably thinking, "Didn't the Senate do something about holds a while back?" And you'd be correct. In January, the chamber passed the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007, also known as the ethics and lobbying bill. Under that legislation, a senator wanting to block a bill from moving forward would have to make that objection known, in writing to the Congressional Record, within three days of placing the hold.

The next step is for the full House to pass its own lobbying bill and then meet with the Senate in conference committee. Because the intent of the Senate is murky when it comes to anonymous holds on unanimous consent, conferees should refine the language to make it clear that the same transparency applies to anonymous holds.

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