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Partisans quibble over right stocks bill

Sides agree to end Hill abuses in trading

- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 5, 2012

Even though the Senate reached a bipartisan deal Thursday about an ethics bill regulating the personal financial activities of lawmakers, that didn't stop House leaders from arguing over how to proceed with the measure in their own chamber this week.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor promised to take quick action on the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act, saying he prefers the Senate bill over a somewhat narrower House version. Both bills explicitly ban members of Congress and the executive branch from insider trading, affirming restrictions already codified in the 1934 Securities Exchange Act.

But Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer called on Mr. Cantor to consider the House version, a longtime project of Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter, New York Democrat, who joined forces with Rep. Timothy J. Walz, Minnesota Republican, to give it bipartisan backing.

"We have legislation which is available to take from the desk, pass that and go immediately to conference," Mr. Hoyer said. "That seems the most judicious way to accomplish what we want in a very quick fashion."

Mr. Cantor responded by saying the House bill is weaker than the Senate version. While the Senate version requires lawmakers to disclose sales and purchase of stock every 30 days, the House version requires disclosures every 90 days. Current law mandates annual disclosures.

"Mr. Walz's bill would actually weaken the Senate bill and it is our intention to pass and get to the president a workable, strong bill that makes sure we're delivering on the promise we made to the American people," Mr. Cantor said Friday.

Both versions of the STOCK Act enjoy wide support that spans the aisle. Despite being slowed down by lawmakers attempting to add dozens of amendments, the Senate passed their bill 96-3 just nine days after President Obama in his State of the Union address called on Congress to explicitly ban insider trading for its members.

And in the House, 280 members are co-sponsoring Mrs. Slaughter and Mr. Walz's STOCK Act. As soon as the two chambers agree on a final version, Mr. Obama has said he will sign it into law.

In a divided Congress where legislative gridlock has become the norm, Democrats and Republicans view STOCK Act, with its ethics and transparency measures, as a way to help restore public trust in government. During the Senate floor debate, lawmakers often invoked Congress' record-low approval ratings, which have especially plummeted for House Republicans.

"This is a good government bill, this is a clean government bill," said Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent who pushed the bill. "This is a restore some measure of trust to the American people, in those of us who work for them here - are supposed to work for them here in Washington."

Even so, the STOCK Act seemed in jeopardy at times, as senators seized on the popular bill to try attaching amendments - many only slightly related to the legislation - prompting an exasperated Majority Leader Harry Reid to threaten to shut down debate.

After two days of closed-door negotiations, lawmakers ended up attaching more than a dozen amendments to the final legislation, all of them related to good government.

They agreed to ban executive bonuses for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. They broadened mortgage disclosure requirements for policy and lawmakers. They made it easier for members of Congress to lose their federal pension if convicted of a felony.

Lawmakers also included a provision requiring Washington insiders who sell their knowledge for profit to register as lobbyists.

Mr. Cantor didn't indicate whether he or the other GOP leadership will support or change any of the amendments, saying simply that he is reviewing the legislation.

"It has always been my intention to try to act with dispatch on this very important issue," Mr. Cantor said. "The underlying notion is we need to make sure the people who sent us here know we are acting and abiding by the trust they place in us."

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