It's a sign of just how hot an issue pork-barrel spending has become that the biggest game in political Washington this summer is trying to smoke out the senator who is blocking a bill to create a searchable database of federal contracts and grants.
The bill has the support of the Bush administration and activists on widely divergent sides of the political spectrum. It also passed a Senate committee without any objections, so the unknown senator is annoying many people. . . .
Now Porkbusters.org, a Web site dedicated to exposing wasteful government spending, is conducting a public campaign to smoke out the obstructor or obstructors, while blogs on both sides of the political spectrum have weighed in, demanding action on the bill. Mr. Frist has also vowed to get into the act, promising to try to pass the bill again when Congress returns from its break next month.
"For reasons of policy and politics, many bloggers are rightly outraged that S. 2590 was shot down when I attempted to bring it up for a vote prior to the August recess," Mr. Frist wrote in an entry last week on the blog of Volpac, his political action committee.
The hunt for the senator is turning into a classic political "whodunit," said Brian Darling, director of senate relations for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative leaning think tank based in Washington.
It could be anyone -- Democrat or Republican -- Darling said. To place a hold, senators merely have to inform their leader that they don't want the legislation to move forward, he said.
It remains unclear if the senator responsible will be able to withstand the pressure from the broad array of groups and senators supporting the bill.
Why would a senator be against a database that makes it easy to track what companies are awarded grants, procurement contracts, loans, insurance and financial assistance?
"Somebody has something to hide," said Ellen Miller, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, a new Washington-based nonprofit devoted to helping the public understand Congress through the Internet.
The same Senate rules prohibit those party leaders from disclosing which of them did this dirty deed, and at which senator's behest. It's treated like classified information.
It's troubling enough that Congress functions like this. All the worse is that this is such an important bill that serves the pubic interest. That some would stoop to such depths in opposition to government transparency can only suggests that the awarding of the government contracts and grants the database would track is even more corrupt than anyone had suspected.