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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

As Predicted - It's Ted Stevens; And He Wants a "Cost-Benefit Analysis;" Why Coburn Knew but Didn't Tell; A Democrat Has Also Placed An Anonymous Hold

Congrats to TPMuckraker's Paul Keil who got a spokesman for Sen. Ted. Stevens, R-AK, to confirm that the Alaska Republican is the senator who placed an anonymous hold on the Coburn-Obama bill to create an internet database of most federal spending.

Rebecca Carr at Cox News Washington Bureau has more details, including this knee-slapper that was undoubtedly delivered with a totally straight face by Stevens' aide:

"Aaron Saunders, spokesperson for Stevens, said [Sen. Tom] Coburn was informed two weeks ago that his [Saunders] boss had concerns about the bill. Namely, Stevens is concerned that the bill would create more bureaucracy. He wants to see a cost-benefit analysis."

If that obvious BS doesn't get Stevens hooted out the U.S. Senate .... How about we do a cost-benefit analysis of Stevens' tenure in the nation's capitol?

UPDATE: Beltway Blogroll assess the campaign

Beltway Blogroll's Danny Glover has a superb look at the secret hold campaign from its outset.

UPDATE II: CNN web site features Stevens unmasking

It's the top-rated story on the web site at the moment, which is an indication of attention to the issue among the general public. Go here for the CNN piece.

UPDATE III: Here's why Coburn didn't out Stevens

John Hart, Sen. Tom Coburn's communications director, confirmed for Tapscott's Copy Desk that the Oklahoma Republican senator who is the main force behind the Coburn-Obama bill, knew two weeks ago that Stevens placed the hold on the bill, as claimed earlier today by an aide to the Alaska Republican.

So why didn't Coburn simply announce that it was Stevens who placed the anonymous hold on the bill, S. 2590, the Federal Financial Accountability and Transparency Act?

"Coburn did know two weeks ago, but his position is that it is the responsibility of the senator placing the hold to reveal himself or herself," said Hart. "That's why Coburn didn't want to go after Stevens to put pressure on him to do it."

Hart acknowledged that Coburn also places holds on proposed legislation but emphasized that when he does he goes directly to the sponsor of the bill in question and explains his concerns about it. Stevens has yet to speak with Coburn about the bill, according to Hart.

"Coburn didn't find out it was Stevens until after the August recess began," Hart said. "The difference is that Stevens has avoided press and blogger calls and he refused to meet with us to discuss his concerns."

Hart said there is concern that a second anonymous hold may also be in play, but he said the Coburn staff has been unable to confirm it one way or the other.

FYI: The superb "Stevens busted" artwork topping this post is courtesy of Andy Roth and the mischievious crew at Club for Growth. The second and third pieces of artwork are by Karl Engenberger, who N.Z. Bear calls "the talented creator of the original Porkbusters logo."

UPDATE IV: Timeline shows Stevens actively avoided Coburn

After reviewing a detailed timeline of events beginning with the April 6 introduction of S. 2590 by Coburn, it seems clear that Stevens has done everything possible to avoid working with Coburn or his staff to address the Alaska senator's objections to the proposal. That avoidance strongly suggests that the purpose of the anonymous hold by Stevens was not to force a compromise with Coburn, but to kill the bill outright.

For example, on July 18, Coburn chaired a hearing of his subcommittee on the bill. Stevens could have attended the hearing and was invited but did not.

On July 20, members of Coburn's legislative staff invited Stevens via email to co-sponsor the bill. No response was ever received.

On July 27, the full Homeland Security Committee on which both Coburn and Stevens serve voted unanimously to report the bill to the full Senate with a recommendation that it be considered under unanimous consent, which would have cleared it for quick passage. Stevens did not attend the hearing, even though his staff, if not he himself, knew the agenda for the committee meeting.

On Aug. 2, S. 2590 was placed on the Senate calendar for consideration. Stevens and his staff must have known that fact but said nothing to Coburn.

On Aug. 3, S. 2590 was "hotlined" by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, seeking unanimous consent of Republican senators to approve the bill, and by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid for the Democrats.

On Aug. 4, Coburn and his staff are informed by Frist staff that an anonymous hold has been placed on the bill but they are not told the identity of the responsible senator.

On Aug. 16, Coburn and his staff learn that Stevens placed the hold.

On Aug. 17 at 10:25 a.m., Coburn and his staff email Stevens and his staff asking to meet to discuss Stevens' reasons for placing the hold on the bill. No response was received.

At 5:17 p.m., Stevens' staff acknowledge that their boss placed the hold.

At 5:21 p.m., Coburn staff again email seeking meeting with Stevens.

On Aug. 18, Coburn staff again emails seeking meeting with Stevens. No response is received.

On Aug. 19, Coburn staff receives email from Stevens staff saying no meetig is possible because the lead aide is on "much-needed vacation" and no meeting will be possible until after the August recess is completed.

On Aug. 29, Coburn staff is told by Frist leadership staff that at least one Democrat senator has placed an anonymous hold on the bill.

On Aug. 30 at 11:39 a.m., Coburn staff emails fourth request for meeting with Stevens.

At 11:48 a.m., Stevens staff says he may be available later in the week.

At 12:12 p.m., Coburn staff requests meeting at 1:00 p.m. on Sept. 1.

At 12:29 p.m., Coburn staff is told by Stevens staff that lead aide is still on vacation and cannot commit to a meeting.

At 2:30 p.m., Stevens' aide confirms to reporters that Stevens placed the anonymous hold.

At 3:27 p.m., Coburn staff is again told by Frist leadership staff that a Democrat senator has placed an anonymous hold on the bill.

UPDATE V: How serious is Stevens about spend and bureaucracy? Hardly

One of my Hill sources did some digging and came up with these cites from the record:

As Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, Sen. Stevens has overseen the passage of 40 separate pieces of legislation in the 109 th Congress. Only 31 of those bills have been scored by CBO. According to those 31 official cost estimates, the legislation passed by Sen. Stevens' committee will increase federal spending by at least $89 billion over the next five years .

On March 16, 2006, only two hours after the Senate raised the nation's debt ceiling to nearly $9 trillion, Sen. Stevens' "hotlined" the Polar Bear Conservation and Management Act. When it was hotlined, the Polar Bear bill was estimated to cost $20 million over the next five years. In contrast, CBO estimates that S.2590 will cost $15 million.

S.2590, with 29 co-sponsors (and four additional co-sponsors to be added when Congress reconvenes), already has more co-sponsors than any bill passed by Sen. Stevens' Commerce Committee in the 109 th Congress according to information from the Legislative Information System.

The costs of hiding spending information from the public are well known; the benefits of hiding that information from the public are not. Numerous independent audits and investigations of Katrina spending have revealed rampant waste at all levels of government. Every dollar that is wasted is a dollar that does not go to someone in need. Greater transparency and oversight can only improve the way Congress and the federal government spend taxpayer dollars.

Existing databases of federal spending information are completely inadequate and difficult to use. For example, an August 1, 2006 article in Federal Times notes that shortcomings in the federal government's existing contracts database "are hindering policy makers and other users in their attempts to make procurement spending more efficient and responsible."

The CBO cost estimate of S.2590 notes that existing databases "do not comprise a comprehensive information source of all federal spending and reportedly are not timely nor easily queried for information"

UPDATE VI: The Best Stevens Post of the Day!

Rand Simberg of Transterrestrial Musings has it here.

UPDATE VII: Stevens career down the tubes?

Bulldog Pundit at AnkleBitingPundits wants to know!