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Bill banning insider trading advances in Senate over GOP opposition

A Senate committee easily cleared legislation explicitly prohibiting members from profiting by trading on inside information, despite objections from some GOP lawmakers who called it unnecessary and politically motivated.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee advanced the bill by a vote of 7-2 Tuesday. GOP Sens. Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnPaul Ryan should realize that federal earmarks are the currency of cronyism Republicans in Congress shouldn't try to bring back earmarks Republicans should know reviving earmarks is a political nightmare MORE (Okla.) and Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonTrump spars with GOP lawmakers on steel tariffs Overnight Regulation: Trump unveils budget | Sharp cuts proposed for EPA, HHS | Trump aims to speed environmental reviews | Officials propose repealing most of methane leak rule Trump budget seeks savings through ObamaCare repeal MORE (Wis.) dissented, calling the bill unnecessary and rife with potential unintended consequences. Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainLawmakers worry about rise of fake video technology Democrats put Dreamers and their party in danger by playing hardball Trump set a good defense budget, but here is how to make it better MORE (R-Ariz.) also opposed the bill, but was absent from the vote.

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Backers of the bill agreed that lawmakers are already subject to the same insider-trading laws everyone else must follow, but maintained that it was a worthwhile exercise to make it explicit in statute that such practices are prohibited. A November “60 Minutes” report suggested that several high-ranking members of Congress might have profited personally from information obtained in the halls of Congress.

“We need to send a strong message making absolutely clear that members of Congress and their staff are not exempt,” said Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Tech: Judge blocks AT&T request for DOJ communications | Facebook VP apologizes for tweets about Mueller probe | Tech wants Treasury to fight EU tax proposal Overnight Regulation: Trump to take steps to ban bump stocks | Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare | FCC to officially rescind net neutrality Thursday | Obama EPA chief: Reg rollback won't stand FCC to officially rescind net neutrality rules on Thursday MORE (R-Maine), the committee’s ranking member. “The simpler and more direct we can be, the better.”

But Coburn contended that the rush to pass such a bill was driven by a need for political cover, not the need for clearer laws.

“We’re in a rush to prove to the American public that we’re not guilty,” he said. “We shouldn’t be in a super hurry to fix it because it solves a political problem for us.”

Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) argued that suspicions about insider trading in Congress could make it harder for the legislature to actually do its job.

“If the trust in this institution goes much lower than it is right now, it really compromises our capacity to govern,” he said.

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), who introduced legislation along with Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandAmerican women will decide who wins and loses in 2018 elections Dems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee Calls mount from Dems to give platform to Trump accusers  MORE (D-N.Y.) that formed the basis of Tuesday’s bill, saw no problem in the rapid pace, while prodding House Republicans to follow suit.

“We’re actually ahead of the House on this, which is a good thing,” Brown said, suggesting it puts “pressure on the House to move their bill forward.”

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Spencer BachusSpencer Thomas BachusBipartisan group of House lawmakers urge action on Export-Import Bank nominees Overnight Finance: Trump, lawmakers take key step to immigration deal | Trump urges Congress to bring back earmarks | Tax law poised to create windfall for states | Trump to attend Davos | Dimon walks back bitcoin criticism Manufacturers press Senate to approve Ex-Im board members MORE (R-Ala.) had planned for a quick markup of similar legislation in the House, but that vote has been tabled indefinitely. Bachus was singled out in the “60 Minutes” report for certain profitable trades made during the height of the financial crisis. He has denounced the accusations and said none of the financial moves he made were based on private information.

Following the report, Bachus began to push the harshest version of the insider-trading legislation. 

House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorFeehery: The governing party 'Release the memo' — let's stop pretending that Democrats are the defenders of the FBI Raúl Labrador, a model for Hispanic politicians reaching higher MORE (R-Va.) put the brakes on the bill, as Bachus’s move had not been approved by GOP leadership. Cantor told Bachus that several committees have jurisdiction on the matter.

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That slowdown has Democrats looking for other ways to bring it to the floor. On Wednesday, the legislation was included as part of a motion to recommit filed on the payroll-tax package crafted by Republicans, which was defeated by the GOP majority.

“Since we learned Eric Cantor is blocking the STOCK Act, we are considering any and all options to bring this bill to the floor,” said Sara Severs, spokeswoman for Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), one of the bill’s lead sponsors. “Members of Congress should have to play by the same rules as everyone else.”

The bill prohibits members of Congress, their staff and other government employees from making financial trades based on private, material information obtained in the course of their public service. The House version of the bill also would prohibit people outside of Congress from trading on private information obtained from within the government, in an effort to crack down on the burgeoning industry of “political intelligence.”

But the Senate panel delayed work on that aspect of the bill, instead requiring the Government Accountability Office to study the matter. Lieberman expressed concern that such a prohibition could be overly broad and could even restrict what members can tell constituents about pending legislation.