Congress reaches accord, of sorts, on reform

By Thomas Ferraro

U.S. lawmakers, under pressure to respond to a series of recent scandals, announced a bipartisan agreement on Friday to better enable the public to track billions of dollars in grants and contracts awarded each year by Congress.

The measure would provide for contracts and grants to be posted in separate data bases on a Web site, Democrats and Republicans said in a joint statement.

"We need to empower the public with basic information about who’s receiving federal dollars and what’s being done with them," said Sen. Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat.

In their own statement, House of Representatives Republican leaders said, "We need to be sure that money is spent wisely."

The accord comes after the House and Senate failed to agree on sweeping legislation to clean up the way it does business following a series of influence-peddling scandals.

The two chambers have been unable to agree on new limits on gifts and corporate-backed congressional travel.

Democrats have sought to make the largely Republican scandals a campaign issue as they try to win control of Congress in the November 7 elections.

Lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud charges in January and is cooperating with prosecutors in a probe that could implicate lawmakers and officials across Washington.

In his plea, he admitted that he given lawmakers golf trips, sports tickets and other gifts in return for actions that helped his clients.

Republican Randy "Duke" Cunningham of California resigned from the House last year after pleading guilty to taking $2.4 million in bribes in exchange for help in securing Defense Department contracts. He was sentenced to more than eight years in prison.

The House and Senate were expected to formally approve the new deal as early as next week.

The House also planned to consider a rule change that would require a listing of all "earmarks" — generally local projects that are often slipped into massive spending bills. The rule change would also require disclosure of sponsors.

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan)

© 2006 Reuters