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Bloggers help smoke out senator over stalled bill
By MARGARET TALEV
McClatchy Newspapers

 

August 31, 2006
Thursday


WASHINGTON -- An unusual collaboration between Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Internet bloggers this week led a senator to publicly acknowledge that he'd been blocking a vote on a government accountability bill.

The admission by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, also offered a glimpse into the increasing role that online pundits play in U.S. policymaking.

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Stevens' confirmation that he was behind the legislative "hold" on the bipartisan legislation came a day after Frist, R-Tenn., posted a Web log entry asking colleagues to cooperate with bloggers who were trying to identify who was using the legislative maneuver to stall a vote.

"Senator Stevens wants to ensure this bill is not going to create another layer of bureaucracy," said Aaron Saunders, Stevens' spokesman. Saunders added that Stevens hadn't decided whether to remove his hold. "There's a lot of important questions about what it's going to cost and how it's going to be implemented."

The legislation, by Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., would create a database that people could access online to learn the worth and the recipients of government contracts, including those secured through pork-barrel spending, commonly called earmarks.

The measure has bipartisan support from party leaders and has been championed for months by bloggers who, regardless of their political persuasion, advocate for more information to be available through the Internet.

"The left can very easily find out which earmarks Halliburton is involved with, and the right can find out which earmarks Planned Parenthood is involved with," said Erick Erickson of conservative RedState.com.

"When you have InstaPundit and RedState, some of the most influential conservative bloggers, working with (left-leaning) DailyKos, that's sort of a powerful grass-roots alliance," said Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor.

In this case, the activism was about greater public disclosure, not any ideological issue, said blog reporter Paul Kiel, who posted confirmation of Stevens' announcement on TPMmuckraker.com. "We consider ourselves to be in the tradition of traditional journalism."

Rebecca Carr of Cox Newspapers identified Stevens in a story posted on the chain's Washington bureau Web site at 1:17 p.m. Wednesday.

Frist had posted a plea to senators on the Web site of VOLPAC, his leadership political action committee, saying he wanted the hold lifted when the Senate reconvenes next week so that senators can vote on the bill and send it to the House of Representatives this year. He said the legislation would enable Americans to track $1 trillion in spending.

His call followed a days-long campaign by blogs as diverse as PorkBusters and TPMmuckraker, which had telephoned every senator's office trying to confirm who was behind the hold.

Stevens, through his spokesman, denied that he was caving in to pressure by bloggers or that he had secretly blocked the legislation.

 

 

Distributed to subscribers for publication by
Scripps-McClatchy Western Service, http://www.shns.com

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