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Cummings, Issa battle over federal contractors proposal

Hours before a congressional hearing was set to begin Thursday on a White House proposal that would require federal contractors to disclose political donations Republicans and Democrats were heatedly arguing over the witness lineup.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the top-ranking Democrat on the committee, had invited Fred Wertheimer of the Washington-based watchdog group Democracy 21 to testify in support of the draft proposal, but said Thursday that Rep. Darrell Issa, the committee's GOP chairman, denied the request.

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Five of the seven remaining witnesses expected to testify oppose the measure.

"It is deeply troubling that Chairman Issa refused to allow testimony from this coalition of independent experts," the Baltimore lawmaker said in a statement. "Denying their testimony is a disservice to members of Congress and the public, and it tarnishes the integrity of the committee."

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A spokesman for Issa noted that the witness roster includes an Obama administration official as well as Lawrie Hollingsworth, president of a Chicago-based engineering company that supports the White House measure.

"Cummings has only himself to look at for his failure to coordinate his minority witness request with his Democratic counterparts on the Small Business Committee," Issa spokesman Frederick Hill said in a statement. "Whatever this committee does, whoever it invites … Cummings always looks for a way to obstruct and whine."

The White House proposal, which has not been officially released, would require contractors to declare third-party political contributions exceeding $5,000 a year – a response to the millions of dollars in corporate money that flowed into the 2010 election without being reported. Some Democrats have called for more disclosure of those contributions, but business groups and Republican lawmakers say the proposal would politicize how the federal government buys goods and services.

Maryland is a powerhouse for government contracting: Companies in the state secured more than $34 billion in federal business in 2009. A total of 80,987 federal contracts were awarded to 13,277 businesses in Maryland in 2007, according to a 2010 report from the state Department of Legislative Services.

Some Democrats have also expressed concerned about the idea as well. Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, the second-highest ranking Democrat in the House, said this week that he was "not in agreement with the administration on that issue." Hoyer's Southern Maryland district is home to many federal contractors.

The hearing, which is titled "Politicizing procurement: Would President Obama's proposal curb free speech and hurt small business?" will include testimony from two contracting associations, a law professor who has written about his opposition to the proposal and a lawyer who represents federal contractors.

Also included on the witness list is Daniel Gordon, who heads procurement for the Obama administration in the Office of Management of Budget. Because the draft proposal was leaked and has not been formally endorsed by the White House, it's not clear whether he will directly defend it.


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