It’s not every day that an obscure bill with little support or momentum gets an overnight boost. But exactly that happened in 60 short minutes Sunday night.
The ideas of increasing disclosure regarding Members’ stock trades or restricting some trades altogether seem to be gaining traction after the proposals got prime-time endorsements on “60 Minutes.”
The CBS newsmagazine took Congress to task Sunday night for condoning alleged insider trading, with anchorman Steve Kroft tailing Members outside the Capitol to ask whether they would support a specific bill that seeks to ban the practice.
“Boy, that was some coverage, wasn’t it?” said Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), one of the bill’s primary co-sponsors. “I hope it means more sponsors, and I hope we can finally get something done here.”
Whether the rare prime-time bully pulpit will translate to a vote on the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act remains to be seen. The bill had just nine co-sponsors before the segment aired and has not had a hearing this Congress.
However, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told reporters Monday that although he is not familiar with the specifics of the STOCK Act, he is generally in favor of more disclosure when doubt is cast on the veracity of Members’ actions, saying that “we should be held to a higher standard.”
“I am for increased disclosure. If there is any sense of impropriety or any appearance of that, we should take extra steps to ensure the public’s cynicism is addressed,” the Virginia Republican said. “We’re not here to hide anything. And I have always been, when it comes to either financial disclosures or campaign finance disclosures, very supportive of full disclosure, as much as possible, so that the public can continue to make their decision on a full airing of the facts.”
But Cantor stopped short of saying that he plans to bring the bill or anything like it to the House floor for a vote.
The bill has not moved since it was referred to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution in June. A Judiciary aide said there was no update on the bill’s status as of Monday afternoon.
Nonetheless, the proposal is gaining more momentum than ever among Members.
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), ranking member on the House Financial Services Committee, said in an email that the bill “is a good idea, and I would be in favor of some form of it in the future.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, whom “60 Minutes” flagged for what it called suspect stock trades, supports the bill, according to a statement from her office. The California Democrat disputed the program’s account of her trades, however.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a member of the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction and one of Pelosi’s top lieutenants, was among six lawmakers who have signed on to the bill since the program aired, according to Slaughter’s office.
Slaughter said everyone from colleagues to constituents in her district’s Greater Rochester International Airport has been approaching her in support of the measure since the program aired.
The program “gave it a lot of time,” she said. “We work in a very special place; we are given a serious obligation here to do the best for the nation. To be sidetracked here to make a buck or to have someone else do it, is very offensive.”
Rep. Tim Walz, the bill’s other primary sponsor, said he is emboldened by the coverage, and he and Slaughter are sending around “Dear Colleague” letters and will speak to Members on the House floor about supporting the bill.
“I think the momentum is here. I’d like to see this thing move fast track to the floor as quick as possible,” the Minnesota Democrat said. “I don’t know how you go home and tell people that you don’t think this is a good idea. I’m not above leveraging that” to get support.
Walz added that he plans to announce a “strong Senate companion ready to roll.”
Still, all of the bill’s sponsors so far are Democrats except for Rep. Walter Jones Jr. (N.C.), a Republican who signed on to the bill in October. That is not a promising sign for action in the GOP-controlled House.
Peter Schweizer, the Stanford University Hoover Institution fellow whose just-released book, “Throw Them All Out,” provided some of the basis for the “60 Minutes” report, said he doubts Congress will act on the measure unless constituents initiate grass-roots support for doing so.
“It’s going to be hard to get any legislative reform effort under way unless Members of Congress feel the heat, and that’s got to happen first,” he said. “I do think a lot of people, from the tea party to Occupy Wall Street, are frustrated with Washington. I hope people will be outraged by this.”