Friday, December 26, 2014

Flavia Colgan | Double secret Senate shenanigans

IN "Animal House," the evil Dean Wormer, in his quest to get rid of the nuisance of the Delta fraternity, puts them on "double secret probation." It was a made-up term that just made his desperation even more hilarious.

Over the past few weeks, an unnamed senator (who I predicted would turn out to be Alaska Republican Ted Stevens, and it has) used something called a "secret hold" to kill some sensible legislation. It would be as funny as what Dean Wormer did, if it weren't a real Senate procedure, and if the bill wasn't so important.

At issue is a bill sponsored by Barack Obama, D-Ill. and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., that would open up the federal books for all to see: a total of $2.5 trillion in spending last year alone.

You'll never find two guys at such opposites of the political spectrum as Obama and Coburn, which serves to highlight how bipartisan this legislation is. It would require that all government contracts and grants be placed in an online searchable database, so, with the click of a mouse, citizens can find out how their tax money is being spent.

If it passes, the only losers will be the special interests with sweetheart deals from the feds because they flood the campaign coffers of elected officials.

Perhaps that's why Stevens didn't come forward until both Republicans and Democrats asked every senator if they were responsible for the hold. Using that rule, the senator never has to reveal himself, and the legislation (unanimously approved by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee) can't move forward until the senator lifts the hold.

Ellen Miller, who heads the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington outfit dedicated to a more open government, was quoted last week as saying, "It really is a mystery, not only who did it, but what the rationale could possibly be and why they would go to the mat on this."

Well, not such a mystery to me. The "hold" sold out the principles of a representative democracy to protect those moneyed interests that "negotiate" cockamamie deals like charging the Pentagon $500 for a hammer.

It turns out that that "someone" - Sen. Stevens - wanted to make sure that people didn't get wind of $200 million being spent on a "bridge to nowhere" to serve 50 people or $450,000 to research baby food made with salmon. (I could do a whole piece just on Stevens-backed spending on salmon related things alone.)

Most people don't want their tax dollars being spent on absurd things like that while they watch the National Guard being cut and a raise in the minimum wage being blocked.

That's why it's not a surprise that true conservative organizations, which are against bloated budgets, have also cried foul. Porkbusters.org, far from a liberal outlet, had started an online investigation to uncover who the secret senator was before Sen. Stevens was outed. The quest wasn't quite as much as fun as Larry Flynt's sex "investigation," but it certainly was of more public consequence.

Now that the culprit has been revealed, we should all let him know how we feel. Call Ted Stevens at 202-224-3004 or shoot him an e-mail at stevens.

senate.gov/contact.cfm.


Flavia Colgan is a member of the Daily News editorial board. Check out her blog at www.citizenhunter.com.
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