With all the scandals and partisan gridlock swirling around Washington these days, the disconnect between the American people and their elected leaders is reaching unprecedented heights.
From Benghazi to the IRS to the Justice Department, it’s easy to see why approval ratings for our leaders in Washington are sinking to all-time lows.
Elected officials on both sides of the aisle have lost the trust of the people they were sent to the nation’s capital to represent.
Restoring this breach is going to require both parties working together to prove that they can get things done when they set their mind to it. There is a precedent of this taking place in recent years, and it can serve as a road map for the future.
During my three years in the Senate, I was named the “least partisan” Senator in the Senate.
One of my proudest moments was being in the White House as President Obama signed the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge or – STOCK – Act into law.
The STOCK Act was a result of a “60 Minutes” expose that revealed that members of Congress and their staffs were using insider information from their jobs to benefit their personal stock portfolios, essentially engaging in insider trading. Prior to the “60 Minutes” segment, this behavior was legal.
Like many others, I was outraged by this loophole. If anyone else in the private sector did this, they’d go to jail. But some members of Congress and their staffs were allegedly getting richer.
I immediately filed a bill to prohibit this behavior. The bill quickly received bipartisan support, and after I personally lobbied President Obama after his State of the Union address, it moved through the legislative channels with overwhelming support and onto the president’s desk for his signature.
While it was only one piece of legislation, the STOCK Act represented an important step toward re-establishing the trust between the American people and the members of Congress.
Unfortunately, there have been efforts recently to undercut or weaken the teeth of this law by reducing the transparency of the financial information of public employees, thus defeating the transparency framework we wanted in the bill. The modifications included the removal of the online reporting requirement for congressional staffers and many executive branch workers.
Majority Leader Harry Reid made sure these changes were passed quietly and with little fanfare using a legislative procedure called “unanimous consent,” meaning it requires only the approval of all members of congress present at the time of the vote. Done before a mostly empty chamber, the weakening of the STOCK Act took 10 seconds to pass in the Senate and all of 14 seconds in the House.
No one – Republican or Democrat – in either the House or the Senate objected. And just like that, a key plank of the STOCK Act had been removed and it once again became easier for federal employees to live by different standards than everyone else.
With this action, a brick in the path toward restoring the breach of trust between the American people and their elected leaders was taken away.
Unfortunately, this go-along-to-get-along mentality is all too common these days. Politicians have forgotten that they were sent to Washington by the people to act on their behalf – not have some in Washington advance their own personal interests or line their own pockets.
The trust has been lost, and it comes at a terrible time.
Our country faces very serious challenges right now. With an unemployment rate that’s still too high, millions of people who are out of work and millions of others stuck in part-time jobs, a national debt that is reaching all-time highs and showing no signs of slowing down and the omnipresent threat from radical terrorists who want to destroy our way of life, we need to know our elected leaders are working on our behalf to move the country forward.
The first step is restoring the current breach of trust, and that starts by making it clear that members of Congress live by the same rules that everyone else does.