In a bid to shore up their reputation as out-of-touch elites who don't have to play by the same rules as the rest of us, lawmakers have introduced legislation dubbed the STOCK - Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge - Act, which, according to reports, is supposed to "put teeth" into current bans on insider trading by members of Congress.
The issue exploded onto the national stage following a November broadcast of CBS News' "60 Minutes" program, which reported that "members of Congress and their aides have regular access to powerful political intelligence, and many have made well-timed stock market trades in the very industries they regulate."
Right now, the practice - while patently unfair - is perfectly legal for lawmakers, even though ordinary Americans have, and would, face substantial jail time for violating federal insider trading laws (think Oliver Stone's film, "Wall Street"). The STOCK Act will supposedly close that legal loophole.
"Members of Congress and their staffers have the duty to the American people," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada. "They may not use privileged information they get on the job to personally profit, but the perception remains that a few members of Congress are using their positions as public servants to serve themselves instead... The STOCK Act will clear up any perception that it's acceptable for members of Congress to profit from insider trading."
The president jumped on the bandwagon.
During his State of the Union address, President Obama goaded Congress into action, urging members to send him "a bill that bans insider trading by members of Congress; I will sign it tomorrow."
Other lawmakers chimed in as well.
"Building upon the Senate bill, this common-sense proposal will not only deal with insider trading of stocks, but also prevent all federal officials and employees from using insider information for profit in other areas in a constitutionally sound way," Laena Fallon, a spokesperson for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, told CBS News. "Leader Cantor has said, he strongly supports increased disclosure to prevent any sense of impropriety and ensure the public's confidence and trust in our elected officials."
House Republicans say they want to expand on the Senate version - which passed that chamber on a vote of 93-2 on Jan. 30 - to include non-stock investments, as well as Executive Branch officials and employees.
How nice. But it begs the question: Why is this bill necessary in the first place?
Because, bottom line is, we don't send very ethical people to Washington, D.C.
Peter Schweizer of the Hoover Institute says it's all a part of the culture in the nation's capital, and it's one of the big reasons why so many people spend so much money and effort to get elected.
"This is a venture opportunity. This is an opportunity to leverage your position in public service and use that position to enrich yourself, your friends, and your family," Schweizer told CBS News.
What sort of practical, real-life applications does making your own rules have for lawmakers?
"We know that during the health care debate people were trading health care stocks. We know that during the financial crisis of 2008 they were getting out of the market before the rest of America really knew what was going on," Schweizer said.
It's no wonder that Congress' approval rating is in the toilet. Then again, with rules like these, it's a safe bet most of them don't care, as long as they can continue to use insider information to enrich themselves.
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