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Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. BROWN of Massachusetts. Mr. President, I wish to thank Ranking Member Collins and Chairman Lieberman for doing something very unusual around here, which is to get something out in a very short period of time, having it not only come up and being filed by Senator Gillibrand--her bill and even my bill--and then you both working together to move it forward for a hearing. That hearing going very well and coming out so quickly is unheard of, and I wish to thank you for that.

I also wish to thank Leader Reid for bringing this bill to the floor today as well as, as I said, Chairman Lieberman, Ranking Member Collins, and Senator Gillibrand. We have worked together to draft a bipartisan version of the STOCK Act, an act that passed out of committee by an overwhelming margin. That is appropriate because this isn't a partisan or ideological issue. It is about cleaning up Washington.

Abraham Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg of fighting to preserve ``government of the people, by the people, and for the people.'' I think that if the approval ratings are any indication, the American people have lost faith that we are living up to Lincoln's ideal, and we need to do it better. They have lost faith that Congress works for them. They believe too many Members of Congress have come to Washington to make themselves rich or to do other things instead of taking care of the people's business and that Congress only steps in to bail out the people with the most money or the most lobbying power, and that is not right.

With the bill before us today, we can take a small step to reestablishing the trust between the American people and Congress. If we can pass the STOCK Act this week, it will send a very strong and unified message to the American people that Congress does not consider itself to be above the law. We can start to finally address that deficit of trust that the President referenced in his State of the Union Address. Members of Congress must live by the same rules that govern every other American citizen.

As you may recall from a ``60 Minutes'' investigation only 2 months ago, we learned that Members of Congress, their staff, as well as other Federal employees, may be using material nonpublic information for their personal gain, either through stock trades, real estate deals or other financial activity. Everyone agrees this should be illegal or it already is, as referenced by the ranking member and her very thorough explanation of the law and the problems with it. But somehow, despite all the evidence, there has never been a single Member of Congress or congressional staffer charged with insider trading.

I have to admit, similar to you and many others, I was shocked by this report. I think we all were. As a result, I filed my version of the STOCK Act, which would prohibit Members and employees of Congress from using material nonpublic information for their personal benefit.

When Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing on the state of insider trading law as it applies to Congress, one thing was very clear. Although, as Ranking Member Collins said, the SEC theoretically has the ability to prosecute Members, there has been no precedent for it, and the state of law at this point is very unsettled. To remove any and all doubt, we need to act, and we need to act now. In addition to clarifying that insider trading is indeed a criminal offense, we are increasing the transparency of Members' trading activity to make sure our investment decisions are out there for everyone to see as plain as day. As President Ronald Reagan liked to say: Trust but verify.

In conclusion, I wish to say that Senator Coburn has a phrase that I think is very accurate in this context. He talks about all the earmarks and contracts and Washington spending that end up in the hands of those people he calls well-heeled and well-connected. In my opinion, no one is more well-connected, with more access to a wide range of privileged, nonpublic information, than Members of Congress, their friends, employees or family members.

At a time when our economy is struggling and the average American family has to make hard economic choices, congressional Members and staff should not be lining their pockets on insider information. Serving our country is a privilege, one I cherish very much. I believe we must level the playing field and show the American people that the people in Congress do not consider themselves to be above the laws we expect everyone else across the country to obey.

I believe it is time to listen to our constituents and remember that every seat in this room is the people's seat.

I yield the floor.

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Mr. BROWN of Massachusetts. Mr. President, I concur, and I have always felt one good deed begets another good deed, and so on and so forth. This is a measure the American people are clamoring for. We need to reestablish the trust with the American people, and this is the first step in doing that very thing.

Once again, I thank the chairman for referencing something I failed to reference as well. I would encourage my colleagues on my side of the aisle and my friends on the other side of the aisle to keep all amendments germane. We need to make sure we move for cloture, get cloture, and then have a free, fair, and spirited debate on the issues that concern them but don't get sidetracked to the point where the bill gets killed or pulled. I think that would be a travesty and a mistake. So I am going to encourage my colleagues to make sure if they have a concern, let's air it out and take a full and fair vote on it and move forward.

I love hearing the Senator's stories. I am reading his book because of his knowledge and history and the way he can weave things back and forth. That is a very good analogy.

I too have concerns. We have referenced many times that there may be forces beyond us who want to make sure this doesn't come out of this Chamber and go next door and then ultimately be signed by the President. I am not one of them. I want to make sure--as the Senator from Connecticut, the Senator from Maine, and many of the other Members and the cosponsors--that this bill comes out in a good and fair form.

We are here for a very specific reason, to address a very specific issue that affects people, quite frankly, in a manner that I never thought was possible. If there are other concerns, I commend the chairman for publicly stating to bring them up in a separate matter on a separate bill and address them if there are issues we have missed. I have a fear--and I hope I am wrong--that by making it, as the Senator from Connecticut referenced, too perfect or too sweet, it could fail, and I don't want to see that. I want to make sure we have a laser-sharp bill that addresses a very specific issue, and if we do it together and work in a true bipartisan manner, we have an opportunity right now in this moment in our history of this country to do something special.

I was sent here to do the people's business, and I do it each and every day by working across party lines with good people and good Democrats like the Senator from Connecticut and others. I take that role very seriously. We have an opportunity right now to send a very powerful message for which the American people are yearning. They want us to do well. They want us to be good. They want us to be better than we have been representing ourselves right now.

So I am encouraging--just to reference and take it a step further--my colleagues to do the same thing. Let's put our party differences aside. Let's put the inner party differences aside and push this legislation through in a thoughtful, methodical, respectful, and responsible manner that will make the American people say: OK, it is a good first step. What is next, Congress? Are we going to do the postal bill and try to save the postal bill? I hope that is the next issue. We need to work in a truly bipartisan manner.

Once again, who is here? It is me, Senator Lieberman, Senator Collins, and Senator Cochran who are pushing to try to save the post office. That should be the next issue. What is after that? We need to address our fiscal and financial issues so we can come out of this 3-year recession in a lean-and-mean manner so we can be a better country and be able to compete on a global basis. We need to start putting the American people's interests first instead of everybody else's.

I usually get in trouble when I go off like this, but I think it is critically important to let the people know that one good deed begets another good deed, and this is the first step in this new calendar year to do just that.

I yield the floor.

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