WASHINGTON — Sen. Scott Brown said Wednesday he favors any amendment that expands the scope of his bill to prohibit so-called “congressional inside trading” to include the executive branch.
The STOCK Act, or Stop Trading On Congressional Knowledge Act, would bar members of the House and Senate from trading stocks using private information they picked up while working on Capitol Hill. Brown, R-Mass., recalled the original version of the bill was meant to deal with unsavory stock activity among all federal employees, not just lawmakers. He introduced it to the Senate in November.
It remained unclear Wednesday evening how many STOCK Act amendments would be allowed and when debate would end. Before the Senate recessed for a confidential briefing at 4 p.m., Sen. Joe Lieberman, the bill’s co-sponsor, hinted senators were inching toward a floor vote.
“Productive work is going on to try to reach a final list of amendments to the STOCK Act,” said Lieberman, I-Conn. “We’re making progress, and I hope we can continue to do that.”
Despite Lieberman’s remarks, the Senate took its break with little to show for a day marked by sometimes redundant arguments over similar amendments. No amendments had been adopted at that time.
One of the central points of contention over the bill’s amendments was, as Brown argued, it does not go as far as demanding the same restrictions of the executive branch.
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., also urged the sponsors to expand the legislation’s scope to include other government workers.
“Let’s not make Congress transparent while leaving the executive branch and independent agencies in the dark,” Shelby said, pointing to the Federal Communications Commission as an independent agency that every day deals with sensitive information that could inform trading decisions. Later in the day, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., proposed an amendment that would require public disclosure of personal mortgages taken out by members of Congress.
When pressed by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine — one of the STOCK Act’s authors — about why her amendment should not also apply to the executive branch, Boxer said she is concerned about “our house” only and “cleaning up” Congress in particular.
Boxer claimed Republicans are trying to distract senators from the true task at hand: Restoring Americans’ trust in Congress.
“All of the sudden, they want to turn the attention over to the executive branch instead of focusing it on us,” she said.
Collins told Boxer that the STOCK Act’s advancement should not be a partisan matter. “This has come up in every single issue we’ve been tackling on the floor,” Collins responded.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., continued to caution that adding unrelated amendments could sink the bill. Lieberman said his staff worked overnight sorting through the 25 amendments proposed Tuesday to figure out which ones are germane to the legislation’s underlying intent.
Lieberman agreed there should be parity in coverage under the STOCK Act, but said the executive branch is already governed by stricter conflict-of-interest laws.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., introduced an amendment promising to revoke the pension of any member of Congress who gets prosecuted and convicted for so-called “congressional insider trading.”
Another amendment, offered by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, would require senators and their senior staff to divert themselves of their stocks before taking offer. There is “no reason our colleagues need to be buying and selling stocks in multimillion-dollar portfolios,” he said.
“These are important steps, but they do not go far enough,” added Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, who co-sponsored the divestment amendment with Brown. “Let us remember insider trading is incredibly difficult to define.”
Amendments kept popping up. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., will force a vote on his term limits amendment to the STOCK Act, his office announced Wednesday afternoon.
His amendment would be based on a constitutional amendment he proposed last year with 10 other Republican senators. The constitutional amendment would allow House members to serve no more than three terms and senators to serve no more than two.
“The only way to permanently reform Washington and discourage corruption is to pass a term limits amendment to the Constitution,” DeMint said in a news release. “Our founders warned us about creating a class of career politicians who amass personal power instead of fighting for the people they are supposed to represent.”
DeMint also threw his support behind a STOCK Act amendment offered by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., that would permanently ban earmarks to spending bills.