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Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden appreciates a good hold as much as a World Wrestling Federation wrestler appreciates a jaw-compressing headlock.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden appreciates a good hold as much as a World Wrestling Federation wrestler appreciates a jaw-compressing headlock.

When the U.S. Senate is in session, it's a rare month that passes without Wyden publicly wielding the extraordinary power that individual senators have to block consideration of nominations and legislation.

For example, Wyden recently announced that he would place a hold on President Bush's nomination of a high-level Interior Department official until he had evidence that a lingering ethics scandal in the department was being addressed. Within a day, a key Interior official involved in the scandal resigned.

Last year, Wyden blocked confirmation of presidential appointments in an effort to force the administration to commit to a one-year extension of federal timber payments to rural counties. He also slapped a hold on renewal of the nation's main federal fisheries management law until the Senate approved an amendment declaring that the West Coast commercial fishing industry was facing economic disaster.

It's the highest and best use of the venerable tradition of holds, one that some watchdog groups wrongly argue should be eliminated on grounds that it undermines the principle of majority rule. But the hold, like its procedural cousin the filibuster, is a time-honored way of ensuring that even minority party senators have the ability to take principled stands and, on occasion, profoundly affect the business of the Senate.

But the practice has been notoriously abused by some senators who, unlike Wyden, exercise "secret holds" that allow their identities to remain hidden, even to frustrated colleagues whose legislation is being blocked.

Last year, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, used a secret hold in an attempt to kill the Federal Accountability and Transparency Act. Sponsored by Sens. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., the broadly supported bipartisan measure required the government to publicize information about federal contracts and grants in a searchable database on the Internet.

Stevens' motive for choosing stealth over transparency was obvious and reprehensible. Rather than face withering public criticism for opposing the popular Obama-Coburn bill, Stevens tried to get away with smothering it in secret. Fortunately, the ploy was exposed by a government watchdog group, and the bill was passed by the Senate and eventually signed into law by President Bush.

For more than a decade, Wyden has attempted to eliminate the practice of secret holds. This year he managed to attach his provision to an ethics overhaul passed by Congress. It would require senators wishing to place holds on legislation or nominees to disclose their intent within six legislative days after the parliamentary procedure known as the unanimous consent request. That's three days later than Wyden's original proposal, an unnecessary compromise that the Senate should rectify in future ethics reform legislation.

But for now, Wyden's bill is an excellent start, one that would provide increased transparency and accountability. President Bush should sign the ethics reform bill and put an end to the practice of secret holds.
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Title Annotation:Editorials
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Aug 16, 2007
Words:494
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