- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2012

In a rare burst of activity, the Senate broke through its gridlock rut Thursday and passed two bipartisan measures aimed at cutting red tape for small businesses and explicitly banning insider stock trading for members of Congress.

The Democrat-controlled Senate voted 73-26 to pass the House Republicans’ Jobs Act, which is designed to give small businesses better access to capital by easing some Securities and Exchange Commission regulations.

Immediately afterward, the Senate, in an unusual move, passed by a verbal “unanimous consent” a bill that prohibits members of Congress and other federal workers from profiting from information learned on the job. The measure now goes to President Obama, who is expected to sign it into law.

“This is a big day in the United States Senate,” said Sen. John Thune, South Dakota Republican. “We’re delighted to actually be able to say the Senate is functioning effectively in a bipartisan way.”

The Senate approved one amendment to the small-business package to increase investor protections, so the measure — which easily passed the House earlier this month — must go back to the lower chamber for final approval. But the bill is expected to quickly clear Congress and be sent to the president, who supports it.

The House jobs package includes six bills, three of which previously passed the chamber with wide bipartisan support but stalled in the Senate. A centerpiece is a measure that would make it easier for small businesses to go public, which passed the House in November by a 421-1 vote.

The Senate action on the Jobs Act is a victory for House Republican leaders, who crafted the measure to rebut Mr. Obama’s claims their party hasn’t done enough to help small businesses and entrepreneurs.

But Sen. Bernard Sanders, a Vermont independent who joined 25 Democrats to oppose the package, said the bill’s provisions to streamline regulations instead would lead to greater investor fraud.

“At best, this bill could make it easier for con artists to defraud seniors out of their entire life savings by convincing them to invest in worthless companies,” Mr. Sanders said. “At worst, this bill has the potential to create the next Enron or Arthur Andersen scandal or an even worse financial crisis.”

The insider-trading bill, which the House already passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, would explicitly ban members of Congress, the president and thousands of other federal workers from profiting from nonpublic information learned on the job.

The Stock Act also would require many government officials to disclose any securities trade in excess of $1,000 either 30 days after the individual was notified of the transaction in an account or 45 days after the transaction.

The House currently posts disclosure information on the Internet, but the Senate still requires people seeking the data to appear personally in a Senate office building.

“I strongly believe that we have to make clear that nobody here is above the law and that members of Congress need to play by the exact same set of rules as every other American,” said Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, New York Democrat.

The bill also would require members of Congress, their senior staff and top level executive branch employees to disclose their mortgages annually.

An earlier proposal to require public reports from people who gather information from Congress — and sell it, mainly to investors — was dropped from the final bill.