WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a bill that would bar members of Congress from trading stocks using confidential information, while expanding their financial disclosure requirements.
The 96-3 vote followed the adoption of several amendments that strengthen the ethics measure known as the STOCK Act. The bill now goes to the House, where Majority Leader Eric Cantor has vowed to bring a version of the measure to the floor.
Before passing the bill on Thursday, the Senate added an amendment that requires so-called political intelligence firms, which sell information they gather in meetings on Capitol Hill to financial market participants, to register much as lobbyists must do.
A similar provision was stripped out of an earlier version of the Senate bill by Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman, but Republican Sen. Charles Grassley was successful in reinserting the proposal, which passed by a 60-39 vote.
"Political intelligence professionals aren't considered lobbyists, so they don't have to disclose that they're seeking information and are paid for it," Grassley said prior to the vote. "As a result, members of Congress and congressional staff have no way of knowing whether such meetings result in information being sold to firms that trade based on that information."
Also approved Thursday was an amendment that would require lawmakers to disclose publicly the terms of their mortgages.
That proposal, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer and Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, was a response to the revelations that some members of Congress received bubble-era mortgages under favorable terms as part of Countrywide's VIP program.
Yet another addition to the bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, extends the measure's requirements on reporting certain financial transactions to include thousands of executive-branch employees, rather than just members of Congress and their aides.
"It only seems fair that executive branch officials who are already required to file annual financial reports, also be directed to meet the same additional reporting requirements being imposed on the legislative branch," Shelby said on the Senate floor. "What is good for the goose, it seems to me, should be good for the gander."
In an unrelated amendment approved Thursday, the Senate bill also bars the payment of bonuses to executives at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac while they remain in government conservatorship.
"It's about time that the Senate passed this responsible legislation to make sure the mortgage giants can't give out excessive, million-dollar bonuses while they are being propped up by taxpayer money," said Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who co-sponsored the amendment with Republican Sen. John McCain, in a written statement.
The Senate's passage of the ethics bill puts pressure on the House to do the same. On Tuesday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said that he plans to hold a floor vote soon, though he did not promise that the vote will be on the Senate's version of the measure.
"Depending on what the Senate does, if the Senate produces a bill that we believe is strengthened and something that is workable, that certainly will be something well received by the House," Cantor said at a press conference.
Cantor went on to say that the Senate bill should be strengthened so that it applies to executive branch employees. With Thursday's votes, that has now happened.
By promising a floor vote, it appears that the House Republican leadership will bypass the House Financial Services Committee, which late last year was planning to hold a vote on the ethics bill before Cantor scuttled it.
Financial Services Committee Chairman Spencer Bachus faced pressure to support and help pass the STOCK Act after his own trading activity during the 2008 financial crisis came under scrutiny in a "60 Minutes" investigation.
Bachus is now in a re-election fight in Alabama, where his four-year-old trades have become a campaign issue.
The "60 Minutes" report galvanized support in Congress for the STOCK Act, which had been languishing on Capitol Hill for years. The bill got another boost last week when President Obama endorsed it in his State of the Union address.