WASHINGTON The House of Representatives will swiftly take up a Senate-passed bill to curb insider trading by lawmakers next week, a top Republican said on Friday as Congress clamors to promote the measure in the face of flagging approval ratings.
The "clean government" bill, which aims to prevent lawmakers from using knowledge gained through their positions for personal profit, sailed through the Senate by a 96-3 vote on Thursday, marking a rare display of bipartisan support in a deeply divided Congress.
"We are going to act with dispatch. We are going to take up the Senate bill," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said on Friday on the House floor. "We are currently reviewing the actions the Senate took on that bill and we intend to strengthen that bill."
Neither Cantor nor his office gave an indication of what changes may be made to the Senate bill. But after sidelining a similar bill in the House last year, Cantor praised the measure as an important step to reaffirm the American public's trust in Congress.
He wanted to "get a bill to the president's desk as quickly as possible so that there is no misunderstanding on the part of the people that send us here that they can have trust in this institution and the members."
In addition to requiring lawmakers to electronically disclose stock trades within 30 days, the legislation gives the Securities and Exchange Commission explicit authority to investigate cases of stock trading by members of Congress based on non-public information.
Obama, a Democrat, has promised to sign the bill immediately upon House passage despite some controversial amendments that the Senate added to it.
One of these would extend the measure's 30-day trade disclosure requirements to other federal employees of executive branch agencies and independent regulatory bodies. Senator Joe Lieberman, an independent, said more than 300,000 officials would be affected.
CONCERNS OVER AMENDMENT
The author of that amendment, Republican Senator Richard Shelby, is disputing that number, and contends that it would only apply to 28,000 high-level government managers who must now file public disclosures of their financial holdings.
The Republican-controlled House will not likely rescind any new disclosure requirements on members of the Obama administration.
Another controversial amendment would require people who collect "political intelligence and sell it to Wall Street financiers, hedge funds and corporations to register under lobbying disclosure laws.
Although this measure appeared targeted at Washington insiders who provide advice to individual or small groups of clients, it raises questions about the distinctions between these consultants and journalists and could infringe on free speech rights.
"That amendment raises some tricky issues related to the First Amendment and they need to be examined more closely, said Leslie Phillips, a spokeswoman for the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
But with Congress' approval ratings in the 10 percent range in polls in recent weeks after a pre-Christmas battle over extending payroll tax cuts, House members are likely to set aside such concerns and quickly approve the bill.
"I think we will pass something" next week, said Representative David Dreier, a member of Republican leadership.
Any differences between the House and Senate versions would have to be worked out between the two bodies.
Dreier said it was important to eliminate any perceptions of impropriety among members of Congress. A November broadcast on CBS' "60 Minutes" about members of Congress trading stock based on inside information they received because of their positions drew national attention to the issue.
"This institution has a dismal approval rating and this issue exacerbates that problem and it leads to moving quickly," he said.
(Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro; Editing by Sandra Maler)