More Sunshine in the Senate

Kudos to senate majority leader Trent Lott (R) of Mississippi and minority leader Tom Daschle (D) of South Dakota for ending the pernicious practice of "secret holds."

Using secret holds, senators for decades have been able to anonymously block or delay bills and nominations they objected to. What originally began as a courtesy to members who couldn't attend a vote - or who might need more time to study a proposal - became a tool for obstruction. Senators often used it simply to stymie legislation or White House nominations, leaving a sponsor or nominee in limbo, ignorant of who was objecting or why. Toward a session's end, groups of senators would sometimes engage in "rolling holds," in which one senator would lift an objection, only to be immediately replaced by another.

The two leaders responded to a long campaign against the practice waged by Sens. Charles Grassley (R) of Iowa and Ron Wyden (D) of Oregon. While both use holds themselves, they publically identify themselves in the Congressional Record when doing so. Senators Lott and Daschle last week jointly wrote to their colleagues announcing that from now on, a senator wishing to place a hold must notify the bill's sponsor, the appropriate committees, and his or her leader.

The change protects individual senators' interests; they can still place public holds. But it also opens up the process to public scrutiny, levels the playing field, and should boost public confidence in the Senate. It's the way a democratic body should operate. Thanks to the leaders for doing the right thing.

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