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Grassley, Wyden, Inhofe Pressure Lobbying Reform Conferees to Keep Provision to End Secret Holds

Senators Chuck Grassley, Ron Wyden and Jim Inhofe are urging conferees to the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act to keep a provision that ends the practice of secret holds in the Senate.

The provision in the Senate's lobbying reform bill establishes a Standing Order requiring that holds be made public. It provides for a simple form to fill out, like adding a cosponsor to a bill. Senators have a full three session days from placing the hold to submit this form. The hold will then be published in the Congressional Record and the Senate Calendar.

"This should be non-negotiable in the conference meetings. It deals with Senate procedure. The provision passed the Senate with 84 votes, and frankly the House should have no say about Senate procedure, so there's no legitimate reason to take this provision out," Grassley said. "Being transparent about a hold doesn't hurt. I've been putting a statement about any hold that I've placed in the Congressional Record for nearly 10 years now, and I haven't once been bloodied or battered."

In February 1999, then-Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi and then-Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota notified all Senators wishing to place a hold that they would be required to notify the sponsor of the legislation and the committee of jurisdiction of their hold. In November 2003, a similar letter was sent by Majority Leader Frist and Daschle. The directive was not enforced and the use of secret holds returned to common practice.

Grassley and Wyden then introduced legislation in 2003 and again in 2005 to end the practice of secret holds. The Senate Rules Committee held a hearing in June 2003 and received the support of Lott and former Majority Leader Robert Byrd of West Virginia.

Here's a copy of the letter to conferees.

June 23, 2006

Dear Conferee,

On March 28, 2006, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to end secrecy in the use of Senate holds and to require an open and accountable process when senators utilize this powerful tool. The U.S. Constitution makes clear that, "Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings..." The hold is a unique feature of the Senate, arising out of its own rules and practices with no equivalent in the House of Representatives. As such, we view the standing order passed by the Senate requiring public disclosure of holds to be a non-negotiable item in the conference committee on the Lobbying Reform Bill.

During the debate on this measure, some points were made in opposition that focused on legitimate reasons why a senator may wish to place a hold on a piece of legislation or a nomination. It is, therefore, important to point out that this measure does not limit the ability of senators to place holds so long as they are made public within three days, nor does this amendment prohibit the practice of senators seeking consultation with leadership when action on a measure or matter is contemplated.

There is no good reason why holds should be kept anonymous. The notion that there can be a legitimate purpose for senators to block legislation or nominations without being accountable to their constituents flies in the face of the democratic principle of open government. If there is a legitimate reason to place a hold, senators should have no fear of making their actions known to their colleagues and their constituents.

The use of anonymous holds in the Senate undermines public accountability, and eighty-four senators have voted to end this shadowy practice. The Senate has spoken and we expect this standing order to remain intact in the final conference report on the Lobby Reform Bill.

Sincerely,

Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Ron Wyden of Oregon
Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma
Daniel Akaka of Hawaii
Lamar Alexander of Tennessee
Joe Biden of Delaware
Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico
Christopher Bond of Missouri
Dick Durbin of Illinois
Russ Feingold of Wisconsin
Johnny Isakson of Georgia
Jim Jeffords of Vermont
John Kerry of Massachusetts
Herb Kohl of Wisconsin
Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey
Carl Levin of Michigan
Richard Lugar of Indiana
Barbara Mikulski of Maryland
Lisa Murkowski of Alaska
Barack Obama of Illinois
Mark Pryor of Arkansas
Pat Roberts of Kansas
Ken Salazar of Colorado
Charles Schumer of New York
Gordon Smith of Oregon
Olympia Snowe of Maine
Jim Talent of Missouri
Craig Thomas of Wyoming
David Vitter of Louisiana


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