Feb. 9, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

STOCK Act Makes for Difficult Debate

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (above) joined other Democrats and Republicans in criticizing a STOCK Act proposal from Sen. Rand Paul.

A Senate effort to quickly pass a bipartisan bill designed to reinforce a ban on Congressional insider trading appears to be growing into a politically uncomfortable debate on Congressional ethics.

The Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act has become a magnet for amendments that propose far-reaching ethics reforms. While insider trading is already illegal, backers of the STOCK Act, including the White House, say the legislation is needed to ensure the law will apply to Members of Congress who are privy to nonpublic information.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) spoke out against several of the amendments as overly burdensome, particularly to Members such as himself who aren’t as wealthy as others. But he acknowledged that they could be difficult to oppose.

“The problem is that to the general public, each and every one of these may sound like a fairly reasonable idea. But applied to real-life situations, some of them create unreasonable hardships,” he said.

Durbin and other senior Democrats and Republicans alike have criticized Sen. Rand Paul’s proposal to deny pensions to lawmakers who become lobbyists. Many have also panned a proposal by Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Jeff Merkley (Ore.) to force Senators to divest their stock holdings or turn them over to a blind trust.

Durbin also criticized President Barack Obama’s State of the Union proposal to block lawmakers from owning stock in companies that they affect.

“Imagine the application of that to the Finance and Ways and Means committees,” Durbin said. “Which companies do not have tax considerations? ... What can you own? So let us be reasonable. I’m for disclosure, but let us be reasonable.”

Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) said he had a bad experience with a blind trust and now puts his money in mutual funds.

“You know, when I came here, I put mine in a blind trust. A blind trust is the biggest way to lose money there is. Really, I lost about half,” Enzi said, adding that he opposes the amendment banning stock ownership.

“I think it’s a good way not to have anybody serve in Congress,” he said.

Durbin said he’s looked into creating a blind trust and that it entails significant lawyer and accountant fees.

“For some of us who are not wealthy coming into this business, it just creates some issues,” he said.

Even Paul said the blind trust amendment would hurt Senators of relatively modest means such as himself. His pension ban amendment does not now look likely to get a vote after coming under stiff bipartisan attack.

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