Stock Act remains stalled in Senate a month after House passage
Responding to a call by President Obama to ban insider trading for members of Congress, the House and Senate moved quickly last month to put together the legislation. But weeks later, lawmakers still haven’t sent a bill to the president.
After the House easily passed the Stock Act a month ago, hopes were high that lawmakers could quickly reconcile it with a more expansive Senate version and chalk up a rare bipartisan victory early in the year.
But the legislation has since stalled, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, telling reporters Tuesday that he is still trying to work through disagreements about how to proceed.
He said he is struggling to gather enough support for a conference committee to hash out differences with the House bill after Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, stripped out provisions expanding the definition of who qualifies as a lobbyist and granting new tools to prosecute criminal conduct by public officials.
“Yeah, I’ve had a number of conversations with my folks and [Senate Minority Leader Mitch Mcconnell],” Mr. Reid said. “We’re trying to do that. You know, it’s not easy to do.”
He didn’t rule out the possibility of bypassing a conference committee altogether and voting on the House bill — an option some staffers have said is likely.
“I’ll take a look at it,” Mr. Reid said. “We’re trying to work together on this. This is an issue that I think I need some Republican support on, and I’ll work with Sen. Mcconnell and see what we can come up with.”
Either way, the next move is up to Mr. Reid, with Mr. Cantor’s office saying the ball is in the Nevada senator’s court.
Lawmakers widely agree on the core of the legislation, which affirms that a decades-old ban on insider trading applies to members of Congress.
But the House version could be made more attractive to lawmakers, including Mr. Reid and sponsoring Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, who voted against the lobbyist amendment added by Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican.
The law requires anyone who engages in “political intelligence activities” to register as a lobbyist, and critics charge the amendment’s language is so vague it could apply even to people who call their members of Congress to ask the status of a bill.
Mr. Grassley said Mr. Reid wants to avoid going to conference to make sure it isn’t slipped into the final agreement.
“I’m an advocate for going to conference,” Mr. Grassley said. “I understand they’re trying to work around that to avoid having to deal with my amendment.”
Mr. Reid has been tight-lipped with lawmakers about how he plans to proceed. Mr. Lieberman said he hasn’t received any word, and neither had Sen. Susan M. Collins, the Maine Republican who also helped lead the Stock Act to passage in the Senate.
“I hope we’re going to have a regular conference,” Ms. Collins said. “I think we could get the issues resolved in a week and we should do it.”
Another question is whether the final version of the Stock Act will include a bipartisan amendment giving prosecutors more tools to identify, investigate and prosecute criminal conduct by public officials. Offered by Sens. Patrick J. Leahy, Robert P. Casey Jr. and John Cornyn, the Senate passed it by voice vote before Mr. Cantor ditched it in the House bill.
But Mr. Leahy and Mr. Casey, both Democrats, said they haven’t heard from Mr. Reid on whether he’ll push to include it.
“I haven’t talked to [Mr. Reid] lately,” Pennsylvania’s Mr. Casey said. “Our staffs have talked, but I probably need an update. I would just say I’m hoping we can still include it, but I really can’t give you an assessment of where the leader is.”