Stock Act re­mains stalled in Se­nate a month af­ter House pas­sage

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY PAIGE WIN­FIELD CUN­NING­HAM

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.”

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