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Public Statements

Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act of 2012

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. LIEBERMAN. Madam President, it is a new day and with it comes the hope we will make more progress than we did yesterday. Actually, we were prepared, after some good work by the four of us--Senator Collins; Senator Brown; the occupant of the chair, Senator Gillibrand; and myself--and our staffs to move forward yesterday afternoon. Unfortunately, we were blocked in that. But I know efforts continue to allow us to at least proceed with the amendment Senator Paul offered that was modified--or prepared to be modified, after discussion, with a reasonable conclusion that I think will be supported by most Members of the Senate.

There is so much we can do. Our staffs worked overnight. They have tried to divide the amendments into those that are germane and relevant and those that are not. I understand leadership on both sides will be talking about how to proceed.

I repeat what I said at the outset--and I know all of us who have worked so hard to respond to the concern that Members of Congress and our staffs are not covered by insider trading laws--that we not try to solve every problem or correct every potential source of public mistrust of Congress on this bill for fear that we will, therefore, never get anything accomplished.

I am hopeful, as the morning goes on and certainly into the afternoon, after discussions that occur at the lunch hour, we will be able to proceed to handle some amendments in an expeditious way and that we can see our way to the end of consideration of this bill, remembering that on the basic provisions of the bill we have overwhelming bipartisan support.

I understand the vote on cloture to proceed to the bill does not exactly express support for the final vote, but there were only two who voted against cloture, so clearly an overwhelming number of Members of the Senate want to proceed to vote on the bill.

If we do not break this unfortunate and unnecessary and harmful gridlock, either the majority leader is going to have to file cloture or leave the bill and go on to other pressing business--FAA reauthorization and the like--and that would be not only disappointing to us, but having aroused the hope that we would respond to the public concern and anger about the possibility that we are not covered by insider trading laws, we will have ended up increasing that concern and anger and disenchantment with Congress. I do not think any of us want to do that.

With that appeal to our colleagues to apply a certain rule of reason so we can get something done that will be good for our government and the people's respect for us, I am very pleased to see my colleague from Connecticut, Senator Blumenthal, in the Chamber. I know he has an amendment he wants to offer at this time, and I will yield the floor to him.


Mr. LIEBERMAN. Madam President, I thank my friend from Alabama for coming to the floor and proposing his amendment. I agree that there should be parity between the legislative and executive branches wherever it is appropriate. I am very happy to work with him.

I must say that yesterday we made some progress on a somewhat similar amendment by Senator Paul to appropriately scope the amendment on requiring executive branch officials to report on their financial transactions to Senate-confirmed positions. I don't know whether that is the resolution here, but I think we should work on it. I want to state for the record that the executive branch is not free of conflict-of-interest regulations. In fact, in some sense you might say they have tougher restrictions. Even the SEC employees have to get permission before they can make stock transactions, and then they have to file disclosures not within 30 or 10 days but within 2 days, I believe. There are many other regulations on them.

I think part of what is going on here is the nature of the two branches of Government to deal with conflicts of interest. We have focused on a system of disclosure and transparency. We have embraced the adage that sunlight is the best disinfectant. In contrast, the executive branch actually addresses potential conflicts of interest through not just transparency but statutory mandates that require the divestiture of stock when it may involve a conflict of interest and recusal being involved in handling anything that relates to any personal interest that an individual in the executive branch has. There is a very extensive system of high-ranking agency officials being forced to divest themselves of conflicting stock holdings--obviously, sometimes at a financial loss.

There could be an amendment to come up on that. But to do it in exactly the way--at least on the recusal section--the executive branch does it would not be appropriate for Members of Congress because Members are called on to vote on issues across the widest array of activity. Recusal, therefore, is not a viable option because it would deny our constituents representation and our votes on a very wide array of public issues. An amendment on divestiture of blind trusts or mutual funds is another question.

But the main point I wanted to make is there is a lot of regulation on the executive branch. The ethics rules, requirements, and guidance that have been put forth over the years by the Office of Government Ethics and at the agencies are extensive. I know volume of pages of law isn't everything, but it says a lot. There are six pages in the Senate Code of Conduct that cover conflicts of interest, while there are literally hundreds of pages of rules and requirements governing such conflict of interest situations for the executive branch.

The amendment offered by the Senator from Alabama, as drafted, would require that the annual filings of over 300,000 career civil servants and managers be published on the Internet. That is a lot of people and a lot of work to be done to process and handle those. But I understand the intention of Senator Shelby. I think it is a good intention. Senator Wyden has a similar amendment, and I wish to work with them, as I know Senator Collins would as well, to see if we can come to some meeting of the minds that would allow us to achieve the purpose we all have in the underlying bill, which is to build confidence in our government and its integrity.


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