Insider-trading bill grinds to halt

A bipartisan bill on insider trading that had been steamrolling through Congress has ground to a halt.

The Senate and House last month overwhelmingly approved different versions of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle predicted some version of the bill would reach President Obama’s desk swiftly.

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But what had been a legislative locomotive is now attracting something quite common in an election year: finger-pointing. 

Democrats in the House and a senior Senate Republican want provisions on political intelligence added to the bill. House Republican leaders, who scrapped that part of the legislation, say it’s up to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to make a decision of whether to go to conference or pass the House-passed version. Reid, meanwhile, isn’t saying much. 

On Monday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) called for a conference committee to iron out the differences with the House bill. 

“Taking up the House-passed bill without the opportunity for the Senate to reassert its position with respect to these [political intelligence] provisions would be wrong. These are two of the most important and substantive provisions in the bill,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), whose STOCK Act bill was used a model for what eventually passed the lower chamber, recently told The Hill that the Senate was likely to approve the House-cleared version. Walz backed the House legislation, though he strongly favors putting the political intelligence provisions back in the bill. 

Passing the House bill would certainly irritate Democrats and some Republicans, including Grassley. They have pushed for inclusion of two provisions in the Senate-passed measure requiring disclosure rules for the fast-growing “political intelligence” industry, which provides valuable policy information to hedge funds and other well-heeled interests, usually on Wall Street.

The STOCK Act attracted momentum after “60 Minutes” aired a segment on alleged insider trading by members of Congress last year. President Obama mentioned the bill in his State of the Union address in January. 

Grassley told The Hill that if Reid tries to move the House measure via unanimous consent, he will attempt to amend the House legislation. 

Grassley said he notified the leadership that he would offer the amendment and if it were deemed non-germane, he “would ask to overturn the ruling of the chair.” 

The Senate in February approved Grassley’s political intelligence amendment on a 60-39 vote, though it was opposed by Reid and his top lieutenants, Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). 

The House-backed version, ushered through the chamber by Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Feb. 9, dropped Grassley’s language and replaced it with a Government Accountability Office study on the issue. 

Reid told reporters last week that he was still trying to figure out how to move on the STOCK Act. According to sources close to the leader, Reid’s first choice was to go to conference, but doing so could prove time-consuming because it would require several cloture votes.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who met with Reid in late February, told The Hill that the majority leader wants to send the STOCK Act to the president’s desk before the upcoming April recess. 

“He’d like to get that bill passed before we go on the next break — that would be around the 29th or 30th [of March],” Lieberman said. 

An aide in Cantor’s office said that Reid has not informed the House of what he will do next. 

One thing is clear: The ball is in Reid’s court, and has been for a while. 

On March 1, Craig Holman, government-affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, said, “Everyone is waiting for Reid to make a decision.”

Walz and Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), who have led the charge on the STOCK Act in the House, would prefer to convene a conference committee.

“Moving forward with the House version, without giving members a chance to express their views through a conference committee, would do a disservice to the American people. I continue my call for the leaders of the House and Senate to convene a conference committee,” Slaughter said in a statement.

Reid’s office did not return requests to comment for this article.

Lieberman, who opposed Grassley’s amendment on political intelligence, said the fact that it is so challenging to move legislation that has such broad support shows the challenges Reid faces every day. 

“This is why the majority leader has such a difficult job. I mean, here’s a bill that passed with over 90 votes [in the Senate] and we’re trying hard to figure out how to actually get it to the president,” Lieberman said.