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Sen. Stevens is 'the secret senator'

From Andrea Koppel, Ted Barrett and Abbi Tatton
CNN Washington Bureau
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The identity of the blogosphere's "secret senator" has been revealed.

CNN has confirmed that Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, has placed a hold on a bill that would require the government to publish online a database of federal spending.

"He does have a hold on the bill," Stevens' spokesperson Aaron Saunders told CNN. "At the time he placed the hold he notified Sen. [Tom] Coburn and his staff and identified several questions we had with the bill. Two weeks ago Sen. Coburn named Stevens as having a hold on the bill, so we don't consider it a secret."

Senate tradition allows any senator to keep a piece of legislation from reaching the Senate floor by placing a hold on the bill.

Coburn's office confirmed that Coburn had revealed Stevens' hold during a town hall meeting in Oklahoma two weeks ago.

The bill has become a cause célèbre for both liberal and conservative bloggers as they tried to uncover the "secret senator" who had blocked passage of the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (S. 2590). The bill was introduced earlier this year by Sens. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, and Coburn, R-Oklahoma.

The conservative-leaning, anti-government waste site Porkbustersexternal link urged readers to call their senators and ask them to go on the record denying that they placed the hold. TPMmuckrakerexternal link, under the banner "blogosphere unites in pursuit of masked senator" also got in on the act, posting updates from readers around the country.

The effort prompted Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to weigh in online: Blogging at his political action committee Web siteexternal link, Sen. Frist, R-Tennessee, called on "all members, when asked by the blog community, to instruct their staff to answer whether or not they have a hold."

Saunders said Stevens did not attempt to keep his hold anonymous.

"Sen. Stevens has a series of concerns and questions about the bill. He wants a cost benefit analysis to make sure it doesn't create an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy and not meet its purpose," Saunders said.

"He prefers to handle things at the member to member level or at the staff level," Saunders said. "That's the way Sen. Stevens has always operated."

"This wasn't in any way secretive," Saunders said. "We're baffled as to why it's been called a secret hold."

But a spokesperson for Coburn's office disputed the idea that Stevens had been open about the hold.

"This hold was a secret," Coburn spokesman John Hart said. "His office has ignored media and bloggers' calls about this issue for weeks. We had to ask Stevens if he was the hold. His staff has still not met with us."

"Senator Stevens sits on the committee where this bill was considered and never raised any objections because he skipped the hearings," Hart said. "His specific concerns were addressed at the hearings he skipped, and his office has yet to meet with us to discuss his concerns despite repeated requests."

Last year a proposed $223 million for a "bridge to nowhere" connecting Alaska's Gravina Island -- population 50 -- to the mainland caused a nationwide furor. The allocation was backed by Stevens and fellow Republican Rep. Don Young of Alaska, the powerful chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. The earmarked funding for the bridge was later rescinded by Congress. However, Alaska's overall allocation of federal transportation funds was not decreased, and the state is free to spend the federal dollars to build the bridge if it wishes.

When Coburn tried to block funds for the bridge, he was heavily denounced by Stevens on the Senate floor.

Sen. Ted Stevens' office said his hold on a bill was not meant to be a secret.



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