Politico reported today that the Senate is considering voting on the House version of the STOCK Act rather than convening a conference committee where differences between the House bill and the much stronger Senate-passed bill would be hashed out. The move, still under consideration, would be designed to avoid a filibuster attempt and would give cover to Members of Congress, allowing them to head into the election season claiming to be reformers.
But, by even considering voting on the "STOCK Act Lite" instead of going to conference, Senate leaders are engaging in the kind of political gamesmanship that has resulted in the public’s low opinion of Congress in the first place. Rather than stand on principle and take a bill that Senators supported by an overwhelming vote of 96 to 3 to conference, Senators would be taking the expedient route, kowtowing to the mere threat of a filibuster by Senator Tom Coburn. Do Senators Reid and McConnell need to be reminded that a bill that passed with 96 yea votes probably has the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster?
More importantly, the Senate-passed version of the STOCK Act is a much better bill. Like the House version, it ensures that insider-trading laws apply to Congress and improves transparency of legal trades. In addition, it addresses the entirely secretive practice that allows political intelligence firms to gather congressional information and use that information to enrich investors and manipulate markets. It does so not by banning the practice, but by applying disclosure laws to those who roam the halls of congress in search of information that could impact stock trades or other investments. The disclosure help to ensure enforcement of insider-trading laws.
The original House version of the STOCK Act, which included political intelligence disclosure provisions, had 286 co-sponsors, more than enough to pass. But bowing to pressures from Wall Street, Eric Cantor gutted the bill, stripping the political intelligence disclosure language from it before he would allow it to come to a vote.
The watered down bill passed the House and should proceed, along with the Senate bill, to conference where differences between the two versions would be hashed out. With the strong support the political intelligence disclosure language has in both Houses, it is possible that a bill would emerge from conference with that language reinstated. Simply put, a strong reform bill could become law. Really. In this Congress. In this political climate. Real reform. But, for that to happen, there has to be a conference.
Which takes us back to where we started. Senate leaders should reject the idea of bypassing a conference for the sake of expediency. They should not allow a filibuster threat by a single senator to derail a popular and important piece of legislation. They should stand strong, stand up to threats, and stand for real reform.