Political Corruption GOP Embraces the Ken Lay Way

Leo Gerard

The GOP has adopted the Ken Lay principles – that is obfuscation, false statements and feigned innocence. Republicans are obfuscating about the real reason for their opposition to extending unemployment benefits, the way Enron CEO Ken Lay concealed the truth about billions in losses his corporation racked up.

Lay assured Enron workers the corporation was strong – five weeks before it failed. When the nation’s 7th largest corporation collapsed into bankruptcy in 2001, Lay walked away, by his own estimate, with $20 million. By contrast, Enron’s 4,000 workers and creditors left with debts. The employees lost their jobs and pensions, and the creditors lost $65 billion.

Lay cooked the books. A jury, and a judge in a separate case, convicted him of it in 2006 – finding him guilty of fraud, conspiracy and false statements. He obscured Enron’s massive losses with accounting hocus-pocus then lied about it so pervasively and persuasively that in February of 2001, ten months before the bankruptcy, Fortune magazine awarded Enron first place for innovation and second for management quality.

Republican acolytes of the Ken Lay way contend that the federal budget deficit prohibits spending $65 billion to extend emergency unemployment insurance for a year. But, at the same time, they insist the deficit doesn’t constrain extending tax cuts to the richest 1 percent at a cost of $61 billion for the year 2011. It’s masterful. And as corrupt as Ken Lay.

In the past 60 years, Congress has never terminated emergency unemployment benefits when joblessness was this severe. The highest point at which Congress ended the program previously was 7.2 percent, and that rate was declining. Now, unemployment is stuck at a rate significantly higher — 9.6 percent. There are 14.8 million unemployed workers, five jostling for every single job opening. They subsist on unemployment checks averaging less than $290 a week, which for too many is insufficient to forestall foreclosure because it’s half of what an average family spends for necessities.

Despite that six-decade precedent, Republicans blocked extension of unemployment benefits on Tuesday, then on Wednesday announced they’d vote on no measure until they got renewal of the Bush tax cuts and a resolution continuing funding for the federal government. As a result, 800,000 jobless Americans lost those small, family-preserving checks. Republicans are holding them hostage, with a ransom demand of tax cuts for the nation’s richest 1 percent. If the GOP doesn’t get what it wants, 2 million will lose unemployment insurance by year’s end.

Like Ken Lay, Republicans mouth right-sounding words. They claim they care about creating jobs and improving the economy. All the while, just the way Lay covertly defiled accounts, the GOP kicks the economy in the stomach.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) ranked unemployment insurance as among the best economic boosters and job creators. CBO determined it generates as much as $1.90 in economic activity for every government dollar. Similarly, a study by the Economic Policy Institute showed that extending the benefits for a year would create as many as 488,000 jobs, which, ultimately, would reduce the cost of benefits because those workers would pay taxes rather than seek food stamps.

Republicans swear that the way to create jobs is to extend the Bush tax breaks for the nation’s richest – people earning more than a quarter million dollars a year. The GOP slyly says those words over and over, hoping repetition will spin them into truth. Like Ken Lay’s assertion that Enron was strong as it disintegrated, the GOP tax cut talking point defies truth.

The CBO concluded that extending tax cuts for the rich was among the least effective economic stimulators. It calculated that extending unemployment insurance would revive the economy up to 19 times as much as extending tax cuts for the nation’s wealthiest 1 percent. In addition, those tax breaks didn’t achieve promised job creation during the Bush administration. Since Harry Truman, no president but George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford, both one-termers, generated fewer jobs than the 3 million George W. Bush did over his eight years. Even one-term “stagflation” President Jimmy Carter produced more than three times as many jobs as George W. Bush.

Again, aping Ken Lay, Republicans are engaging in accounting fraud. Professing deep concern over the budget deficit, Republicans say they’d extend unemployment insurance for a year if Democrats would cut federal spending by $65 billion to pay for it. They don’t acknowledge any parallel requirement to cut federal spending by $61 billion to pay for extending tax cuts for the rich for a year.

Just like Enron furloughing 4,000 while Ken Lay and fellow executives stole away with millions, Republicans would take food from the mouths of the unemployed while bulking up the deficit to appease the rich who feast on Almas caviar and White Alba truffles.

That’s corrupt accounting.

And it makes sense. It comes from the party of Ken Lay, who flew George H. W. and Barbara Bush on an Enron plane to George W’s inauguration. You can betcha Republicans won’t take responsibility for the personal and economic devastation caused by their decision to continue moving wealth from the middle class to the rich, just like Ken Lay denied responsibility for Enron’s bankruptcy – right up to his death — which occurred at a Colorado resort as he awaited sentencing.

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