What could make the House pass something in 30 seconds that the Senate also passed? What would motivate them to put aside their alleged “differences” and act in the best interest of the people? The answer is when they are not acting in the best interest of the people, but rather, in their own best interests.
To that end, late last week, your congress quickly approved a measure that modified (aka, killed) a part of the STOCK Act (Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act ), which was only enacted a year ago. The STOCK Act was supposed to address shady stock trades based on insider information.
Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) is taking credit for sponsoring the measure, but clearly he got no pushback from either side of the aisle. Check out the fast movement of this bill, and tell me if you’ve seen anything fly through like this in recent years, sans committee referrals and Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) deep debate over what he can even allow for a debate about a vote:
4/11/2013 Introduced in Senate
4/11/2013 Passed/agreed to in Senate: Introduced in the Senate, read twice, considered, read the third time, and passed without amendment by Unanimous Consent.
4/12/2013 Passed/agreed to in House: On passage Passed without objection.
4/12/2013 Presented to President.
On Tuesday the 15th, the President signed the legislation.
The Sunlight Foundation notes that the amendment passed with unanimous consent, though many members had gone home already. Huh. This doesn’t seem to work for measures that protect the security of the American people, like say, jobs. The Sunlight Foundation also pointed out what might be seen as a precursor of times to come, “The bill was not available to the public on the Library of Congress website until after the vote.” NPR noted that it took the House all of 30 seconds. “NPR’s Tamara Keith tells us the House procedure took exactly 30 seconds.”
The STOCK Act took aim at insider trading and insider information, and also required some 28,000 federal employees from the congressional and executive branches post their conflict of interest disclosures online. It followed “a ’60 Minutes’ report on how many members of Congress are making money on stock trades that are illegal for everyone else, correspondent Nancy Cordes reports a bill to ban lawmakers from insider trading is now on the fast track.”
So, while you were paying attention, they passed The STOCK Act, and now, a year later on a Friday, when you’re not paying attention, they quietly killed the parts they don’t like by unanimous consent (the coward’s way, so you can’t hold them individually accountable on the record).
Yes, senior officials will still have to fill out disclosure forms, but news agencies and anyone else who’s interested will have to dig deeply in order to get access to the information. Your congress claims it’s a security measure (apparently, when you hear “security”, you’re supposed to automatically bend over and initiate invasion, paying off too big to fail, etc.). However, the Sunlight Foundation pointed out that they did not merely address the alleged security issues, but found a way to deeply obscure and bury any path to the transparency:
The sweeping exemption goes even farther than critics of the disclosure requirements requested. For those to whom online disclosure would still apply (the president, vice president, members of Congress, congressional candidates and individuals subject to Senate confirmation) the Senate bill made electronic filing of the information optional and struck the requirement that online information be searchable, sortable and downloadable, making even the disclosures that remain in the bill tepid and relatively unusable.
Not only does the change undermine the intent of the original bill to ensure government insiders are not profiting from non-public information (if anyone thinks high level congressional staffers don’t have as much or more insider information than their bosses, they should spend some time on Capitol Hill) but it sets an extraordinarily dangerous precedent suggesting that any risks stem not from information being public but from public information being online.
Are we going to return to the days when the public can use the Internet to research everything except what their government is doing? Will Congress, in its twisted wisdom, decide that information is public if journalists, academics, advocates and citizens are forced to dig through file cabinets in basements in Washington, DC to find it? And does anyone think that makes us safer?
This is heartening, indeed. Your congress can act and does act quickly, in a bipartsian manner, to address their privacy and security. No concerns about who’s read the bill and how it might destroy democracy or cover up crimes against citizens. No debate needed.
Your government can and does at times function much better than conservatives would like you to believe, but this is not one of them. If there’s ever a time when both sides should come together, it’s when elected officials betray the trust of the people in this manner. Not only is it apparent that these bodies can act quickly when their interests are at issue, but the haste with which they’ve agreed to bury transparency without debate should trouble citizens from both sides of the aisle.