At long last, the Financial Accounting Standards Board laid out a proposal Wednesday that would require public companies to expense stock options. Many hope that a final rule can be in place by the end of the year, but the decade-old campaign still has one more obstacle to cross: Congress.

In the mid-1990s, when accounting regulators last seriously considered forcing options expensing, opponents in Congress forced FASB to back down. Now the technology industry is pressuring legislators to throw up another roadblock.

Congress already has started considering such a measure, and the release of FASB's proposal is a "galvanizing moment" that will spur legislators to act, said Jeff Peck, who is lobbying against broad options expensing on behalf of technology companies and workers. Forcing companies to expense stock options for rank-and-file workers -- as FASB's proprosal would do -- will cost jobs, Peck argued. In the context of a jobless recovery, few politicians will want to be portrayed like that.

"I think election-year politics are very significant on this," Peck said. "If rank-and-file workers are going to complain about expensing, it's not like they're going to go to polls and throw out the members of the FASB."

That prospect -- plus the money the technology industry may be willing to throw at the issue -- has already won over some in Congress. A bill that would block the expensing of options issued to everyone but companies' top five executives has already gained the support of some 70 members of the House, including Speaker Denny Hastert (R., Ill.) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif).

Indeed, many in Congress believe that options expensing is a dubious proposal and many of the most important members are sympathetic to the technology industry on the issue, said James Lucier, a senior Washington analyst for Prudential Equity Group. Even after the stock market bust, Congress still treats technology CEOs with the reverence usually reserved for rock stars, Lucier said.

"The industry has been very successful in making its case," Lucier said. "All other things being equal, Congress would opt in that direction if it were up to them."

But all things aren't equal, Lucier noted. An array of forces is pushing in favor of options expensing. The International Accounting Standards Board will soon require options expensing. The fallout from the corporate scandals at Enron, WorldCom and other companies -- attributed in part to the use of stock options -- still hangs thick in the air in Washington. And expensing opponents are battling perhaps an even more difficult opponent: inertia.

"In the post-Enron climate, Congress is very risk-averse when it comes to intervening in the standard-setting process," Lucier said. "Congress would rather not touch accounting issues with a 10-foot pole."

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