- The Washington Times - Friday, January 25, 2002

Democrats in the early stages of investigating Enron Corp. have focused on the need for more government regulation instead of trying to pin blame on the Bush administration.
"It may be that the principal scandal is what passes for legal conduct in today's marketplace," said Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, as the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee opened its probe yesterday.
Democrats believe there is political opportunity for them in the election-year story of lost jobs and ruined retirement plans. The bankrupt energy company based in Mr. Bush's home state of Texas was the 12th-largest contributor to his presidential campaign, and outgoing Enron CEO Kenneth L. Lay advised the administration on energy policy.
But Democrats themselves said that so far the probe has turned up no "smoking gun" that would score political points against the White House.
"I don't think people have come to the conclusion that somebody [in the White House] royally screwed up," said Democratic strategist David Dougherty, vice president of Global Strategies Group in Washington. "Right now, I don't view it as much of a partisan advantage for either side."
So far the most visible effort to remind the public of the administration's ties to Enron has come from Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. This week, the South Dakota Democrat turned the company's name into a verb to describe the administration risking Social Security surpluses on tax cuts.
"I think that we are slowly 'Enron-izing' the economy, 'Enron-izing' the budget," Mr. Daschle said yesterday. "We are taking the same approach Enron used in sapping retirement funds and providing them to those at the very top. That's exactly what Enron did."
Republicans dispute his math, and a top House Republican aide described Mr. Daschle's claim as "a pretty wacky connection." Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said such rhetoric was "ridiculous."
"Senator Daschle is trying to 'Daschle-ize' the budget by basically saying really what we need to do is less tax cuts, more tax increases and more spending," Mr. Lott said.
Although Congress is likely to investigate the Enron collapse for several more months, Democrats for now are pursuing the broad themes that Republicans are too cozy with big business and that increased regulation will protect small investors.
Rep. Bart Stupak, Michigan Democrat, said Congress can safeguard the public's retirement savings "by immediately repealing the 1995 Securities Reform Act so we can put teeth back into our security exchange laws."
But some Democrats clearly want to take the probes further. Rep. John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat, said he wants the investigations to uncover whether the bankruptcy was caused by "an industry thinking that its powerful political patrons would protect it."
Many Republicans said the probes may not find a scapegoat.
"This is not the first big company to go belly-up with losses to stockholders and employees," said Sen. Fred Thompson, Tennessee Republican. "And when it happens, it is not always because of illegal conduct or unethical activities. We have 17,000 public companies. Is the [Securities and Exchange Commission] supposed to keep up with all of them?"

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