Archives: Congress is not above the law

Originally published in December 2011
Simon Nguyen

COMMENTARY | Just when it seems the credibility of the U.S. congress could not sink any lower, the revelation that members of congress are exempt from insider trading laws serves as a fresh blow to the already damaged reputation of congress. The governmental body that is responsible for the laws of the land has been allowing its members to potentially make financial gains at the expense of the American public.

This unflattering piece of information comes amidst historically low approval ratings for congress. According to the latest CBS News poll, only 11 percent of Americans approve of the way congress is handling its job compared to 82 percent who disapprove.

While it is understandable that members of congress would be exempt from some laws in order for them to be independent of external influence and to perform their job more effectively, insider trading laws should not be among the exemptions. There is absolutely nothing about insider trading laws that would impede or interfere with the work of members of congress.

Conversely, the exemption from insider trading laws actually gives federal lawmakers an incentive to make decisions based on personal interests rather than public interests. Although there is no evidence of any wrong doing, the incentives are clearly there.

If judges had to excuse themselves from certain cases due to a conflict of interest, members of congress should also not be allowed to make personal financial decisions based on classified information from their congressional work. It is simply wrong for people who took an oath to protect the public’s interests to financially gain from information undisclosed to the public. 

To the congress’ credit, the legislative body reacted quickly to the backlash by bringing forth a bill that would remove this absurd congressional privilege. However, the legislation was reported by CNBC to have been blocked by Republican majority leader Eric Cantor for further examination. Apparently, some lawmakers have yet to comprehend the deep level of distrust the American people have for congress.

If this legislation somehow ends up like the budget impasse and the failed super committee, there is a very real possibility that the Occupy Wall Street movement will ultimately become Occupy Congress. Perhaps, a complete makeover of congress in 2012 is needed to change the business-as-usual ways of Washington.

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