One of the most sweeping ethics bills covering the personal financial activities of congressional and executive branch employees is now headed to the House after the Senate gave overwhelming approval as lawmakers try to repair their public image.
President Obama called for the bill in his State of the Union speech last month, and just three senators declined to back it -- an unusual show of near unanimity after lawmakers spent the week toughening up a bill that initially that carried more symbolism than bite. The vote was 96-3.
“While this is an important step to rebuild the trust between Washington and the American people, there is much more work to be done,” Obama said.
Moments after passage in the Senate, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) pledged to bring it to the House floor next week.
“Insider trading at any level of the federal government is unacceptable,” Cantor said.
The so-called STOCK Act – Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge – initially sought to ban members of Congress and their staffs from using insider information to make personal investment decisions and other possible financial gains. The legislation grew from a “60 Minutes” episode that suggested top congressional leaders may have benefited from stock trades made with information gleaned from their work in Washington.
The intent, said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), one of the bill’s authors, is “to show without question, without any ambiguity, that all Members of Congress, their staffs, and Federal employees play by the exact same rules as everyday Americans.”
With congressional approval ratings at an all-time low, lawmakers sought to beef-up the bill with even further restrictions. A near free-for-all of amendments erupted on the Senate floor with back-to-back votes throughout the afternoon Thursday.
One of the most significant changes was to expand the legislation to include executive branch employees. Another would require that those who broker in “political intelligence” register their profession in a way similar to requirements for lobbyists.
As the bill moves to the House, the question will be whether the legislation is tough enough for the GOP majority, whose members may want to include additional restrictions. Such measures could derail the legislation.
For example, the Senate rejected a proposal to establish term limits for members of Congress as well as an amendment from Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) that would permanently ban earmarks. Earmarks have not been allowed in the House or Senate for several years, but there is not a permanent ban.
Another provision from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) would have restricted executive branch appointees or staff from holding positions involving industries in which they or their spouse have a significant financial interest. It was also defeated.