House To Vote On Congressional Insider-Trading Ban

Lawmakers in the House are scheduled to vote Thursday on a bill cracking down on members of Congress who trade on insider information. In an election year, when Congress is having trouble reaching an agreement on much, the measure has enjoyed wide bi-partisan consensus. But that doesn't mean passage is assured.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Today lawmakers in the House of Representatives are expected to vote on something called the STOCK Act. The bill would make it illegal for members of Congress to trade on insider information. This proposal is enjoying some rare bi-partisan support, though its passage is not guaranteed.

Here's NPR's Sonari Glinton.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: The bill the House will take up is called the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act. Here's Congressman Steny Hoyer, a Democrat from Maryland, he has the easiest to understand explanation.

REP. STENY HOYER: "60 Minutes" did a program. It raised issues of whether or not members of Congress were using information garnered in the legislative process to profit themselves. If there are, they ought not to be doing it. That would be wrong. It is wrong.

GLINTON: The idea is there's stuff members of Congress might find out going about their job that would give them an unfair advantage on the stock market. The bill makes it illegal to use that information. Before the "60 Minutes" piece, drafters of the bill could barely find co-sponsors. Right after the piece ran on "60 Minutes," members of Congress from both parties ran to support it like it were a bill in honor of motherhood and apple pie. More than 280 House members signed on as co-sponsors. That's already a majority. In the Senate, the bill passed overwhelmingly with some key amendments. Now it's the Houses' turn.

REP. ERIC CANTOR: We will bring up the STOCK Act for a vote on Thursday.

GLINTON: That's House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

CANTOR: We feel it is unacceptable for anybody in this body to profit personally from non-public information.

GLINTON: That's what almost everybody who allows themselves to be quoted says.

CANTOR: We also believe in strengthening and expanding the Senate bill in its position.

REP. LOUISE SLAUGHTER: I think strengthening here is a euphemism for weakening. I don't have a question in my mind about that.

GLINTON: That's Representative Louise Slaughter, a Democrat from New York and for years one of the bills lonely authors. This is where the sticking point comes. The Senate bill didn't just ban using insider information. It added a provision about political intelligence consultants. Those are people whose job it is to gather information about legislators and sell it businesses and lobbyist. The amendment required them to register like lobbyists have to.

Again, Congressman Slaughter speaking from the House floor.

SLAUGHTER: Political intelligence is the latest scheme to profit from the House of Congress. Unlike the lobbyists, they are nameless. Under the current law, they are not required to identify themselves as they go about their work completely unregulated.

GLINTON: Meanwhile, Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas says he expects bill to change as they go between the House and the Senate.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN: But I think, you know, this is just part of the process. The House isn't going to necessarily rubber stamp what the Senate does and they'll come up with something maybe a little different, some other ideas and then work that out in a conference committee. I think that's the usual process.

GLINTON: Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley says the STOCK Act was a chance to do some House cleaning while the spotlight was on Congress.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY: And it just seemed to me like it's a lot of chutzpah on the part of a handful of House leaders that like the bill in the House of Representatives that has 288 co-sponsors, two-thirds of the House that that could take that out. That ought to be a consensus piece of legislation, so obviously I'm irritated.

GLINTON: Both Grassley and Slaughter say they hope their misgivings about the bill as it stands can be worked out. The House and Senate versions of the STOCK Act would have to be reconciled after the House passes its version today.

Sonari Glinton, NPR News, the Capitol.

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