Congress and the president can compromise -to protect themselves

On Monday, April 5, Patriots Day, two improvised explosive devices detonated 10 seconds apart near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and wounding more than 260. That same day, despite whining, complaining, and hand-wringing about the lack of bipartisanship in Congress and claims that our federal government is broken, the President quietly signed Senate Bill 716.

It is reassuring to learn that Congress can bridge the gaps between the two competing visions of the role government should play in a free society. What a relief to know they could set aside their ideological divide and come together to reach a solution that incorporated the best thinking on both sides. And you thought you could count on one hand the number of times Congress and the President would agree on anything.

The bill they agreed on rolled back key transparency provisions of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, known as the STOCK Act, which was signed into law in April 2012, an election year, in a highly visible signing ceremony where it was said that the legislation would address the “deficit of trust” that divides Washington and the rest of America.

The Senate gutted the disclosure requirements on Thursday evening, the House followed suit the next day and the President signed the bill Monday afternoon.

The STOCK Act, which was written in the wake of a “60 Minutes” segment on insider trading practices in Congress that aired in November 2011, prohibited members of Congress and senior executive and legislative branch officials from trading based on knowledge they obtained as a result of their jobs. It increased transparency by beefing up financial disclosure requirements on stock trades and posting the annual financial disclosure forms filed by federal officials on a publicly available online database.

Senate Bill 716 gutted the provisions of the STOCK Act that were designed to curb trading by 28,000 senior government officials that was based on market-moving non-public information. Sure, insider trading by members of Congress and federal employees is still prohibited, but the ability to verify that such trades took place has been compromised.

But hey, the legislation  is a blessing in disguise. And it is very well disguised.

By unanimous consent, Congress removed the online disclosure requirement for congressional and executive branch staff. Why waste time by asking members to go on record and cast a roll call vote when everyone agrees?

The move clearly violates President Obama’s 2008 campaign promise to allow time for public input by posting every bill Congress passes online for five days before he acts on the legislation. No big deal; it’s not like anyone in government is trying to hide anything.

The new law is a hopeful sign in the wake of all the wretched partisan excess we’ve seen of late. Can progress on gun control, immigration, and the nation’s fiscal woes be far behind?

originally published: May 14, 2013