Fritzkrieg!

A Democratic senator lies about Enron to smear Bush.

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Liberal pundits and Democratic politicians have been attacking the Bush administration over Enron’s collapse for months now, often with little or no substance to back up their allegations. By far the worst offender on this count has been Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, D-S.C., who has lied about the administration’s connections to the company, misrepresented the Bush budget and transformed the word “Enron” into a piece of jargon to attack the president.

Hollings’ most appalling dissembling came in a Feb. 4 press conference, when he falsely claimed that a number of Bush advisors had been “on the payroll” of Enron, including Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels. As Rush Limbaugh pointed out on his show Monday, Hollings said, “Mitch Daniels [has been] on the payroll of Enron … An Enron advisor … He was on the payroll prior to coming here as secretary of the treasury: Mr. Paul O’Neill.” Neither man, however, has even been an employee or paid consultant to Enron. This allegation is totally false.

In an appearance on “Face the Nation” this past Sunday, however, Hollings continued his dissembling. Asked about the Daniels allegation, he corrected himself and said he meant to say that Daniels served on the board of directors of pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly with Ken Lay. “I meant to say that Mitch Daniels was on the Ken Lay payroll rather than the Enron payroll.” But simply serving on a board with Ken Lay, of course, hardly puts Mitch Daniels “on the Ken Lay payroll.” Asked about O’Neill, Hollings denied even having made the accusation. “I don’t remember saying that about the secretary of the treasury because I don’t remember his connections at all,” he stated. The tape of the press conference (which is getting play on Limbaugh’s show) proves otherwise.

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These false attacks are just part of a series of Enron-related dissembling from Hollings. He also said on “Face the Nation” that he had caught Daniels trying to hide the size of the federal deficit at a budget committee hearing. “[Daniels] said, ‘Oh yeah. We hid it, but you found it,’” Hollings stated. “Now you’ve got that Enron accounting thing.”

What Hollings actually found, however, is that the Bush administration did not report as part of the government’s operating deficit funds spent from the Social Security and Medicare surpluses on other projects. This is a common budget practice that has been used by every administration since the Social Security and Medicare trust funds started running surpluses. And Daniels did not attempt to hide it. He said to Hollings in the hearing, “You’re correctly pointing out that when you also add to the operating deficit those accruing interest obligations we owe to various trust funds that the overall gross debt does increase by that amount.” This isn’t “Enron accounting,” but an honest explanation of a complex budgetary issue. Fritz Hollings has proven he’s more interested in connecting his political opponents and their policies to the much-hated Enron than engaging in honest and fair debate.

Related stories:
Unfair Enron comparisons continue (Bryan Keefer, 2/6/02)
Enron association game continues unabated (Bryan Keefer, 1/16/02)
The “Enronomics” offensive (Brendan Nyhan, 1/15/02)

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