March 20, 2012 / 10:33 PM / 6 years ago

U.S. Senate heads toward final approval of insider trading bill

WASHINGTON, March 20 (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid moved on Tuesday to give final congressional approval to a stalled bill to impose new curbs on insider trading by members of Congress, giving up on efforts to strengthen the measure.

Unable to obtain an agreement to try to iron out differences between versions of the bill passed by the Senate and House of Representatives, Reid said his chamber would vote on the House legislation.

A test vote will likely be held on Thursday, clearing the way for the Senate to pass it as early as Friday. It would then go to President Barack Obama to sign into law.

The legislation, aimed at ensuring lawmakers do not profit from non-public knowledge they gain through their positions, is the most extensive effort to clamp down on Congress’ personal business dealings in years.

With White House prodding, lawmakers seized upon the effort amid public opinion polls during the past year that put Congress’ approval rating at a record low of about 9 percent.

The House bill, passed last month, does not include a provision earlier approved by the Senate to impose new regulations on Washington insiders who collect “political intelligence” about pending legislation from lawmakers and their aides and sell it to Wall Street.

The House version also lacks a Senate proposal to equip prosecutors with new legal tools to pursue public corruption cases and ban all gifts to public officials valued over $1,000.

Speaking on the Senate floor, Reid said, “It certainly would have been my preference to work out these differences between the two houses through a conference committee,” a bipartisan negotiating panel composed of House and Senate members.

Reid said that was the also preference of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, but they could not get unanimous Senate consent to create such a committee.

Without such approval, it could take weeks to even begin a House-Senate conference, Reid said, adding: “We need to address this issue more quickly.”

Therefore, Reid said he will instead bring up the House bill.

The bill clarifies that lawmakers are subject to the same Securities and Exchange Commission rules that prohibit trading on non-public, or “insider,” information. While they were not necessarily excluded before, conflict with lawmakers’ rights of debate could have made prosecutions more difficult.

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