Last night S.2038, the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act of 2012 (better known as STOCK), passed the Senate in a 96-3 vote. Introduced by Sen. Lieberman (I –Conn.) just over a week ago on the heels of the State of the Union, STOCK will introduce new regulations on Members and select staff regarding the insider information they receive during the course of their jobs. As insiders expected before the amendments began, it also doubled as a referendum on the lobby industry.
Over 40 amendments were offered to the bill (and that was with the limited number set by Maj. Leader Reid), most dealing more with lobbying than insider trading by those on Capitol Hill. As usual with Congress there were some good/interesting ideas introduced and were promptly voted down. So, without further ado, here are the top 5 good ideas that didn’t make it in to STOCK (and were D.O.A. anyways):
5. SA. 1480 – Sen. Heller – No Budget, No Pay. Despite how hard I’ve tried to the contrary, like a lot of Americans I don’t get paid for not doing my job. The populist in me loves when I see bills or amendments like this that will “stick it to those fat cats in Washington.” This amendment would have stopped Member’s pay for as long as they didn’t pass a budget, which has become an increasingly common occurrence. The realist knows that the budget and Approps process isn’t really the fault of individual offices when these things don’t get passed. Additionally, not all Members are rich enough to work for free (though that seems to be quickly changing) but those that do have money would have the upper hand in negotiations because they would have the ability to hold out. That aside, the reason 1480 made the list was because I love the message it sends to people: “not even Congress thinks Congress will do Congress’s job.”
4. SA. 1472 – Sen. Toomey – Earmark Elimination. Ever notice how we always seem to keep talking about the same issues over and over again each year? Like the above, this is one of those things that comes up on the campaign trail when you say how you’re trying to change the system but the old guard won’t let you. For most Members, earmarks are kind of like the cool party. You don’t like them till you can get past the bouncer, but once you get through the door you don’t want to leave. And you sure aren’t about to let someone kick you out once you get in.
3. SA. 1474 – Sen. Coburn – Legislation online at least 72 hours before votes – Talk about the ultimate double edged sword. Everyone has had a situation where this would help out and another it would kill their issue. It doesn’t seem like expanding the timeframe would really help most offices out (it is already required to be online, just buried on the House Rules website), but it would help outside activists and organizations organize their groups for letters and calls. The insider in me thinks a good compromise here would be required the bills to be printed up in a short run with first-come-first-serve and online earlier, just make them harder for outside sources to find.
Interestingly, they set-up this amendment so that it can be ignored if either body has a 2/3 vote, which just shows how both bodies still want the ability to push things through in the middle of the night.
2. SA. 1473 – Sen. Coburn – Preventing Duplicative and overlapping government programs – I firmly believe that Coburn got robbed on this one, which actually did end up with 60 votes (though it required 66 under a technicality about changing Senate rules). I think what gets under online blackjack wiki people’s skin the most about Coburn (aside from, of course, his politics) is that in a very short time in the Senate he has acquired an incredibly good grasp of the rules and procedures. He’s not afraid to take on popular issues or projects, even those that would give dollars to his own state. And Lord knows he has no problems with being unpopular, either among his colleagues or the press, which I think he feeds off of at times.
Having said that, I really wish he would pick his fights better. I get that part of his “charm” is that he’ll always fight any fight that needs fighting, but would it kill him to be a little less contrarian sometimes? I felt like 1473 was kind of an example of his reputation coming back to haunt him. If he was a different senator, I feel like the 66 (Senate rule change needs aside) would have been waived and the amendment gone through. But his relationships with other senators didn’t afford him this generosity, and the requirement to require the 66 kind of felt like a “haha, back at you.” It gave people cover to vote for it while knowing it would never go anyplace. That it even got to 60 made it feel like a taunt.
For the record, I haven’t really heard a good counter-argument to the amendment, though I will admit cleaning up duplicate programs would take a large amount of time and effort when the Congressional Research Service has little to spare. In this election year where we are trying to watch government and spending, it just seems like bad politics to be against this. Maybe the solution is to just not introduce bills for things that are already working…
1. SA 1490 – Sen. Paul – To require former Members of Congress to forfeit Federal retirement benefits if they work as a lobbyist or engage in lobbying activities. I know the idea and similar ones have been floated before, but it seems like kind of a $1,000 solution to a million dollar question. If Members want to lobby, fine, but make them spend at least a minute considering the decision. As written, it is one of those bills that looks much better than would actually work out, and sounds better as a campaign line. Also, with the income an ex-member can make in the private sector, it also would have a muted impact on their bottom line.
If this was going to be more seriously considered, I would consider changing the threshold around a little bit. Maybe set a cap for how much you can receive through lobbying activities before you get kicked off the benefits. Also, do away with trying to pass waiting laws so that ex-Members can maximize their value if they do decide to go that way. Either way, this is a topic that should be brought up and discussed but any answer needs to be decided fairly, both for the public and the Members. It would never in a million years get passed by itself and I respect Paul for trying to ride this one, after all, you can only shoot what is in front of you. But it needs to be work-shopped before it has a chance of passing.
BONUS: SA.1493, Sen. Grassley, DID go through (with 60 votes) and requires the disclosure of “political intelligence activities.” I couldn’t have supported this amendment anymore wholeheartedly than I currently do. Anything that makes being a staffer or lobbyist sound more like something out of an Ian Fleming novel should always be a Congressional priority and being involved with something as shady as “political intelligence” (though the phrase itself might be an oxymoron) perfectly fits that bill.