This week, Americans will likely witness that rarest of moments in our political system—consensus. In a time when the ideological divide between Democrats and Republicans seems to be deeper than ever, the thought of agreement between both parties in the legislative and executive branch seems like little more than childish fancy. Yet, that is what appears to have happened in the case of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) act.
The bill essentially prohibits members of congress from engaging in financial transactions based on non-public knowledge acquired through their position in the government. If ever there was a common sense piece of legislation, this is it. There is a reason congress has such a dismal approval rating. It is bad enough that members of congress are eligible for lifetime pensions after serving only a single term, but when we repeatedly see our elected officials suddenly and mysterious growing rich while receiving only a small salary, it undermines our confidence in the fairness of our system and raises suspicions of corruption and opportunism in office holders that are supposed to serve the public.
Yet if this bill is such an obviously positive piece of legislation, why has it taken six years for anything to be done about it? The STOCK act was originally proposed in 2006, but failed to go anywhere due to lack of support. The bill was the resuscitated by Senator Scott Brown and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and reintroduced to congress on March 17th, 2011. Now, nearly a year later, the Senate is going to vote on the bill only after public pressure following the State of the Union Address made ignoring it a political impossibility.
The fact that even the once-in-a-blue-moon, obviously good piece of legislation moves at a grindingly slow pace through the wheels of government only illustrates the bloated and inefficient nature of our legislative bodies. Whether this is due to procrastination and reluctance on the part of our representatives, or whether to inherent structural traits of the system itself, it is clear that government cannot be trusted to respond quickly and decisively to real world situations.
If it takes six years to implement a simple insider trading bill less than twenty pages in length, how can we expect the congress to react to industries that are continually and rapidly changing? A perfect example of this lack of responsiveness can be found in the now scuttled SOPA and PIPA bills designed to address online piracy of intellectual property. These proposals were utterly misguided and displayed great ignorance of the way popular sites such as Google and Youtube operate. For the sluggishly rigid congress, attempting to tackle the difficult issues of the rapidly evolving information technology sector is a bit like trying to repair a fine Swiss watch with a pipe wrench.
The founding fathers purposely designed our political system in such a way as to make big changes difficult to enact. That was and is a commendable and far-sighted goal, but it does not mean that, when we do agree that a change is needed, we should be forced to suffer through months and years of tedious process that serves no purpose but to place an unnecessary drain on the taxpayers.