By Jonathan Easley - 04/04/12 05:08 PM EDT
President Obama signed the STOCK Act into law Wednesday, which bars members of Congress from profiting from insider information, but Obama made no mention of the high-profile television exposè that provoked the legislation’s resurrection and swift passage.
Flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, the president said the idea that all Americans play by the same set of rules is “one of our most cherished values.”
“We were sent here to serve the American people and look out for their interests, not our own interests,” the president continued.
Obama did not mention CBS News or the 60 Minutes exposè that caused a national outcry and sparked an immediate reaction from Congress.
A previous version of the bill had languished in Congress since 2006, but collected dozens of sponsors and swiftly passed both chambers after "60 Minutes" journalist Steve Kroft publicly confronted House speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) over personal transactions in front of cameras and other reporters.
Boehner contends that he has no control over his blind trust, and Pelosi’s office said the report omitted key information and was based on a “right-swing smear” from allegations in a book written by a conservative author, but the appearance of a conflict rallied lawmakers on both sides to revisit the legislation.
The bill passed the House 417 to 2, and it passed the Senate 96 to 3.
Pelosi lauded the bill’s passage in a statement, while saying it didn’t go far enough, and she accused House Republicans of cutting key portions of the bill.
“House Republicans had the opportunity to take up the original, stronger, bipartisan Senate proposal, but refused to bring it up for a vote. Now, we must work to strengthen this legislation and uphold the confidence of the American people.”
Obama struck a similar tone on Wednesday, saying Congress should investigate whether further regulations should be imposed on campaign bundlers and lobbyists. In fact, the only hang-up the bill faced on its way to its near-unanimous passage was in regard to how broad and stringent it should be.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) criticized House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) for striking a portion of the bill, which would have required political intelligence firms, which seek out information on lawmaking to sell to investors, to register as lobbyists do.
Grassley ended up being one of the three “nays” in the Senate vote.
Republican Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.), who introduced the act in the Senate and faces a tough re-election battle against Elizabeth Warren, was on hand for the Wednesday bill-signing ceremony. Also present among Republicans were Rep. Sean Duffy (Wis.), who introduced his own stricter version of the STOCK Act shortly after the "60 Minutes" piece, Rep. Robert Dold (Ill.), who sponsored legislation banning lawmakers convicted of felonies from getting pensions, which ended up in the final version of the law, and Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (Pa.). Democratic lawmakers in attendance included Reps. David Cicilline (R.I.), John Larson (Conn.), Bobby Scott (Va.) and Tim Walz (Minn.).
Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), the originator of the House bill in 2006, couldn’t make it because she’s recovering from a broken leg suffered this week.
The bill-signing ceremonies have themselves been a matter of political wrangling.
While they’re primarily photo-ops for the president and key sponsors of a bill, as a way to trumpet Congressional achievements, Republicans have grumbled over the decreased frequency of the events, saying it’s a politically motivated ploy by the president to avoid calling attention to Congressional achievements so that he can run against what he’s called the “do-nothing Congress” in the fall.
Republicans argue that a number of recent bi-partisan achievements, such as the reauthorization of funding for the Federal Aviation Administration and the passage of three trade deals last fall that the GOP had long championed, were worthy of the honor.
But Wednesday’s event was only the second bill-signing ceremony of 2012. In February, the president signed former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’s (D-Ariz.) final piece of legislation. Giffords resigned this year to concentrate on rehabilitation from wounds suffered in a Tucson shooting spree last year.
The White House has said that there is no conspiracy to bury bipartisan accomplishments, but rather that the president’s schedule dictates whether he has time for such events.
Updated at 2:20 p.m.