Magazine article The American Prospect

Enron's Enablers. (Comment)

Magazine article The American Prospect

Enron's Enablers. (Comment)

Article excerpt

OKAY, LET'S TAKE THE BUSH administration at its word, however mutable that word may be. Let's say only a handful of officials--the commerce and treasury secretaries, and (according to a subsequent clarification) several lesser officials at Treasury, and (oh, yes, we forgot) White House Chief of Staff Andy Card--knew about Ken Lay's phone calls imploring the administration to do something that would head off Enron's impending bankruptcy. Let's say that none of these presidential confidants thought to tell George W. Bush or Dick Cheney--or Karl Rove, for that matter--that the largest donor to the Bush family, the dominant corporation in W.'s hometown and home state, the seventh-largest company in the United States, was about to go belly-up and that Ken Lay was cold-calling half the federal registry looking for help.

Let's further concede, if only for the sake of argument, that the Bushies played it by the book, that their collective sentiment was "We could help Enron, but that would be wrong." (Translation: We're into them so deep that they're radioactive.) In other words, let's assume that there's no scandal involving the administration's trying to help Enron avert bankruptcy.

That still leaves the scandals of trying to help Enron do just about everything else. To begin with, there's the scandal of inviting Enron to formulate the administration's energy policy in closed-door meetings with Cheney, and of Ken Lay effectively selecting the regulators charged with overseeing Enron's conduct. And it wasn't just the administration that did Enron's bidding. The energy bill passed by the Republican House contained a cozy $3.5-billion tax break for natural-gas extraction and distribution, not to mention an exemption from taxes on revenue from selling, buying, or operating a power grid. Enron was hardly the only beneficiary of these provisions, but it certainly was a mega-beneficiary. What's more, the stimulus bill that passed the House (and, like the House energy bill, is stuck in the Senate) provided Enron with a $254-million rebate as part of the retroactive repeal of corporate taxes.

Now, far be it from me to suggest that the House Republican leadership--notably, Texas Republicans Dick Armey and Tom DeLay--had any interest in assisting the company that's the biggest star in the Texas GOP's financial firmament. And if they had, it would, of course, have been perfectly legal.

So, too, have been Congress's sins of omission--its stunning indifference to rudimentary regulations that could have kept Enron afloat and at least moderately more responsible to its employees and shareholders. …

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