By Victor Reklaitis
A China competition bill, addressing inflation, further COVID-19 funding, Big Tech antitrust legislation and more.
U.S. lawmakers face a big to-do list before they take their August recess and then focus primarily on November’s midterm elections, but advocates for a ban on congressional trading of individual stocks sound upbeat about lawmakers managing to deliver on that issue.
“I think there’s great momentum. It’s just not public,” said Donald Sherman, senior vice president and chief counsel for the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a watchdog group.
“My understanding is that there’s a Senate compromise bill that is going to be released relatively soon. That is a compromise insofar as it combined elements from lots of people’s bills.”
Sherman said by “soon” he means “by this time next month.”
The CREW expert also pointed to some progress in the House of Representatives, following the House Administration Committee’s April 7 hearing on possible new limits on the buying and selling of individual stocks by lawmakers. Sherman said he received “pretty robust” additional questions from that panel earlier this week after testifying at that hearing — “which suggests to me that members are in the weeds on what comprehensive legislation might look like.”
“I would think that the Senate would aim to get something across the finish line before August recess, so that then the House can resolve and pass something in the fall,” Sherman added.
“This is an issue that members of Congress are either going to run on — or run from — in November. And so I think that timeline makes sense, in order to ensure that members can go back to their districts in the fall and demonstrate that they have gotten this across the finish line.”
Around 63% of all voters favor a ban on stock trading for lawmakers, with support at 69% among Democrats and 58% among Republicans, according to a recent Morning Consult/Politico poll . But the issue doesn’t rank as urgent, as Americans are focused on inflation, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, immigration, climate change and election laws, according to a Quinnipiac University survey .
The raft of bipartisan bills aiming to stop congressional trading in individual stocks has been driven in part by reports about lawmakers who bought and sold stocks in the COVID-19 pandemic’s early days after they were privy to warnings — along with news that many lawmakers have been late with their disclosures . Other reports have raised additional questions , including a MarketWatch article in January that revealed how Congress resembled a Wall Street trading desk last year, with lawmakers and their family members making an estimated total of $355 million worth of stock trades as the market /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +1.06% /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA +1.05% soared.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat, told reporters last week that he hopes to have stock-trading legislation to vote on “ this year .”
“That’s a sign that there still is some momentum there, but there’s not a desire to commit to a particular timeline,” said Jennifer Schulp, an expert from the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.
“I view this as one that could pretty quickly shift,” she added, meaning the timing for a vote “could very easily turn into June or July, if it if it turns into a priority.”
Schulp, the director of financial regulation studies at the Cato’s Center for Monetary and Financial Alternatives, said she doesn’t support a ban on congressional trading of individual stocks, saying it wouldn’t restore trust in Congress or address other conflicts of interests.
She favors measures that would increase transparency, such as cutting the amount of time allowed between a trade and the required disclosure, or raising the penalties for not filing disclosures correctly. She also was a witness at the April 7 hearing.
While Congress is busy trying to tackle inflation, a baby-formula shortage and other matters, the push for a stock-trading ban is “not in contention with those other issues,” said Liz Hempowicz, director of public policy at the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), a watchdog that has lobbied for a ban that would cover lawmakers, their spouses and dependents .
“I think it’s all related, and the public needs to know that Congress can approach those kitchen-table issues with clear eyes and with the public interest at the front and center,” Hempowicz said. The alternative is Americans end up concerned about lawmakers handling a matter “with their own pocketbook in mind,” she said.
Public sentiment in favor of a ban helps make her “cautiously optimistic” on achieving it, added Hempowicz, who was among the witnesses on April 7 as well.
“Things are moving. It’s just behind the scenes,” she said.