The Enronization of Washington

The White House is playing fast and loose with the numbers in order to mislead its "shareholders" -- the American people.

Topics: Enron, Republican Party,

Has there ever been a clearer, more irrefutable example of our political leaders’ lack of a moral compass than the clandestine, 11th-hour elimination of a promised child tax credit for almost 12 million of the nation’s poorest children?

It’s a move so coldhearted and so profoundly dishonorable that it could have been made only by people who have lost all moral direction. A magnetic compass always points north; a moral compass should always point out that heaping billions on the rich while ensuring that one out of six American kids doesn’t get a penny is dead wrong. But that’s exactly what congressional Republicans did in pushing through tax cut legislation last month, and that’s what President Bush signed off on.

This is not a right-left issue. It’s a right-wrong issue. But the GOP’s self-imposed morality czars have been deafeningly silent on this bit of economic indecency. I guess Bill Bennett was too busy doubling down to notice.

Adding to the obscenity is the fact that while the congressional hatchet men were hacking away at the $3.5 billion child tax credit in the name of keeping the total tax cut under $350 billion, they let stand billions in corporate tax dodges and accounting cons, including the use of offshore tax havens. The White House labeled the bill the Jobs and Growth Act. I guess the Leave No Corporate Loophole Behind Act didn’t work as well with focus groups.

The last few years have shown us what happens when an entire subculture loses its moral compass: Enron, Tyco, Adelphia, WorldCom, et al. And it’s becoming increasingly clear that the current administration has embraced the unethical ethos of the corporate oligarchy from which many of its members came, and which all of them continue to serve. The same inability to distinguish right from wrong that characterized the corporate scandals also dominates public policy. It’s the Enronization of Washington.

Want more proof? How about the unprecedented leasing deal between the Pentagon and Boeing, using the same kind of accounting sleight of hand popularized by Enron. Instead of the Pentagon buying the 100 new jets it wants to use as aerial refueling tankers directly from Boeing, at an upfront cost of $138 million per plane, a special-purpose entity created on Wall Street will purchase the planes and lease them to the Air Force. That way the Pentagon gets to acquire the planes without having to dip into the Air Force’s limited procurement budget and Boeing could reap billions in military contracts without having to show the debt associated with the shady deal on its balance sheet. It’s an off-the-books win-win deal for them, but a losing proposition for taxpayers, who’ll end up forking over an additional $8 billion to cover the interest payments on the leases.



The sleazy new deal is being put together by the good bankers at Citigroup — the same outfit that helped Enron defraud shareholders out of, what do you know, $8 billion.

Then there is the news that, in an effort to ensure the passage of its cherished tax cut plan, the Bush administration buried a highly damaging study — commissioned by its own Treasury Department — that found it would take either the completely unpractical elimination of all future federal discretionary spending or an immediate and permanent tax hike of 66 percent to cover the upcoming retirement and healthcare needs of baby boomers.

You think that info might have put a little damper on Bush’s tax cut orgy? This is exactly the kind of skulduggery that corrupt corporations used to conceal potentially disastrous news from investors, like Adelphia hiding its $3.1 billion loans to founder John Rigas and his family in tiny footnotes in an earnings filing.

And like many of these disgraced companies, the White House has proved adept at playing fast and loose with the numbers in order to mislead its “shareholders” — the American people. Take the administration’s shifty use of “averages” to make it seem as if the new tax cut benefits everyone — claiming that “91 million taxpayers will receive, on average, a tax cut of $1,226,” when, in fact, the majority of households will receive a tax cut of $100 or less. Or the way it used sure-to-be-repealed “sunset clauses” to make it seem as if the president was settling for a $350 billion tax cut when the actual price tag on the new bill will be close to $1 trillion.

It’s time to expand the right’s definition of immorality beyond sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll — to include lying, cheating and callous indifference to those in need.

Arianna Huffington is a nationally syndicated columnist, the co-host of the National Public Radio program "Left, Right, and Center," and the author of 10 books. Her latest is "Fanatics and Fools: The Game Plan for Winning Back America."

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