- The Washington Times - Monday, January 30, 2012

The Senate paved the way Monday to begin debating a crackdown on members of Congress using insider knowledge for personal gain — a bill expected to pass easily if lawmakers don’t muddy the waters with extra amendments.

In an early test, the Senate voted 93-2 to advance the bill, known as the Stock Act, to the early stages of debate.

Called for by President Obama in his State of the Union address, the bill would clarify that the 1934 Securities Exchange Act’s prohibition on insider trading applies to members of Congress and their staffs, and would require lawmakers to report quickly on transactions they make involving stocks.

It also calls for the comptroller general and the Congressional Research Service to prepare a report on the role of political intelligence in the financial markets.

The bill has widespread support, but some lawmakers already are pushing to broaden the debate into a larger push for congressional reforms.

Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, and Sen. Richard Burr, North Carolina Republican, voted against advancing the bill. Mr. Coburn filed three amendments Monday that would set up a permanent earmark ban, require legislation be online 72 hours before the Senate votes on it, and require that bills be reviewed to see if they overlap with existing programs.

Sen. Scott P. Brown, Massachusetts Republican, warned his colleagues to avoid unrelated amendments and urged them to allow the bill to sail through Congress this week.

“We need to make sure to keep all amendments germane, have a free and fair and spirited debate, but don’t get sidetracked to the point where the bill gets pulled,” said Mr. Brown, who is co-sponsoring the bill with Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, New York Democrat. “I think that would be a travesty.”

The Obama administration called for swift passage, with spokesman Jay Carney saying the president will sign it as soon as it reaches his desk.

“No one should be able to trade stocks based on nonpublic information gleaned on Capitol Hill,” Mr. Carney said. “So we are pleased the Senate is one step closer to passing the Stock Act.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, likened the possibility of too many amendments to the Dr. Seuss book, “Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose,” where a moose allows so many animals to live in his antlers that he’s unable to move.

“One by one, through the pages of the book, other animals in the forest wanted to lodge in his enormous antlers and he housed them until there were too many there,” Mr. Lieberman said. “Let’s exercise the kind of constraint on a bipartisan basis that will allow us to have a bipartisan accomplishment here at the beginning of Congress.”