Abolish secret Senate holds

By Observer editorial June 18, 2010 12:27 pm
Government efficiency? What an oxymoron. And nothing illustrates inefficiency better than the practice of secret Senate holds.

Both parties are guilty of the mysterious practice of secret Senate holds, which allow individual Senators to block votes on presidential nominees or on pieces of legislation. The holds give minority parties particular power. Republicans are abusing this privilege in an unprecedented manner. The Senate recently took a weeklong Memorial Day recess. At that time, 120 of President Obama’s nominations to senior posts were being put off by secret holds. At the same point in the George W. Bush administration, only 13 nominees were being put off by secret holds.

The issue raises two questions. First, since the U.S. spends $3 for each $2 it collects from taxpayers, and since it borrows the other dollar, how necessary are all these positions to be filled? Second, why is the dysfunctional partisan Senate have such a fear of transparency?

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is leading the charge to reduce the impact of holds. We appreciate his candor. Wyden should, however, be out to get rid of secret holds altogether in the name of fundamental democracy.

Three years back, the Senate passed legislation to give a Senator six days to make a hold before announcing what was going on and why. But the crafty Senators, as one might expect, found ways to circumvent the legislation. Now Wyden and colleague Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, are seeking to reduce the secret hold days to two, and to get rid of the loopholes.

Admittedly, Wyden put a number of holds on when he was in the Senate minority during the Bush administration. But he always made public what he was holding and why. The American public is fed up with a Senate run for the good of the Senate and for lobbyists bearing gifts, not for the good of America. Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley should join Wyden in making a strong stand in battling holds. Have guts, Senators. Take principled stands in public.