- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 2, 2012

Ending a week that began with consensus but fractured into contention, the Senate voted Thursday to strengthen insider-trading bans for its members, and in the process agreed to ban bonuses for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac executives.

After spending the afternoon voting on a score of amendments that had hampered negotiations earlier in the week, the Senate overwhelmingly passed on a 96-3 vote the Stop Trading On Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act. Only Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Richard Burr of North Carolina, both Republicans, and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico Democrat, were opposed.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, scored a win with his amendment to ban Fannie and Freddie bonuses, after sponsors of the legislation had urged their colleagues to avoid proposing unrelated pet projects — a request that was promptly ignored by members of both parties.

The legislation, which President Obama called for in his State of the Union address, specifies that members of Congress are subject to an existing 1934 law banning trading based on insider information.

Hopes had been high that it would sail smoothly to passage, after the Senate overwhelmingly voted Monday to begin debating it, creating a moment of rare bipartisan harmony. But by the next day, lawmakers had proposed more than a dozen amendments, prompting threats by Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, to shut down debate.

After two days of closed-door negotiations, lawmakers reached a deal, easing fears by the sponsoring senators — Republicans Scott P. Brown of Massachusetts and Susan M. Collins of Maine, and Kirsten E. Gillibrand, New York New York, and Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent — that even a bipartisan bill would end in gridlock.

Mr. Obama applauded the passage and promised a prompt signature.

“No one should be able to trade stocks based on nonpublic information gleaned on Capitol Hill,” Mr. Obama said. “So I’m pleased the Senate took bipartisan action to pass the STOCK Act. I urge the House of Representatives to pass this bill, and I will sign it right away.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, indicated he will call for a vote in his chamber in the next few weeks.

“We will quickly review the entire bill and the amendments that were added [Thursday] to ensure that public servants, whether in the legislative or executive branch, do not personally profit from insider information,” Mr. Cantor said.

Focused on transparency, the STOCK Act also mandates stricter disclosure requirements for members of Congress, requiring them to reveal their sales and purchases of stocks within 30 days instead of once a year.

Over a period of four hours Thursday, the Senate voted on some 20 amendments, rejecting some and accepting others.

The upper chamber extended the 30-day requirement to federal employees and exempted mutual funds from the requirement, because owners don’t control those trades. Senators also agreed by voice vote to broaden mortgage disclosure requirements for members of Congress and some executive employees and to expand the possibility for members of Congress to lose their federal pension if convicted of a felony.

But the Senate also defeated a number of amendments, voting down a bipartisan amendment offered by Sens. Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican, and Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, that would have permanently banned all earmarks, a measure they have been pushing for the past few months.

Lawmakers also rejected an amendment offered by Mr. Coburn that would have required that, before the Senate considers legislation, the Congressional Research Service must determine whether it would duplicate existing programs. They also roundly defeated two amendments expressing an intent to limit Senate terms and require members of the Senate to divest themselves of individual company stock.