Congress -- or at least some of its members -- is enjoying an orgy of outrage over some cases of corporate malfeasance. Amidst all the finger-wagging and thunder of its hearings, that august body seems not to have noticed that there is something on the order of four million corporations in the nation, of which perhaps 2,000 might be classified as "big" and, of these, a bare handful have caused the ruckus. Never mind. The Democrats, thinking they can blame the Republicans for anything that goes wrong, are in ecstasy over this, and the congressional Republicans, fearful the nonsense coming from the Democrats will stick, are outbidding their rivals for toughness on corporate chieftains who go wrong.
Congress is passing bills, some of which will doubtless make matters worse over the long run. In any case, longer sentences for white-collar criminals and setting up a federal accounting oversight board are halfway measures. What is needed is an all-out congressional effort to eliminate greed. That is not too much to ask of a body that has managed to redesign our automobiles several times.
The bill to stamp out greed should start in the Senate, where so much virtue and principle reside. It should be simple and direct: Greed is outlawed, period. A special Anti-Greed Board will be created by the legislation. The board will leave it to federal bureaucrats to decide what constitutes greed at any particular moment. Thus, objective administration of the legislation will be assured.
Senator Daschle, as the majority leader, is the one who should announce the legislative campaign. His mien is often grave, as suits this serious matter. As we have seen in recent months, he is always Gravely Concerned about whatever it is President Bush is proposing that week.
The bill should pass both houses quickly and by large margins. Some Republican sticklers might claim that it violates the constitutional requirement that all bills involving federal funds must originate in the House. They might speculate that pork barrel handouts to arcane locale projects by various members could be construed as examples of greed on the part of said members (i.e., buying votes). No matter. The Democrats will make mincemeat of anyone who quibbles about the constitutionality of the bill. Quibblers will be labeled pro-greed. In an election year, who needs that?
It's too bad that Congress, while they're at it, can't stamp out greed retroactively. Consider the possibilities:
• Senator and Mrs. Daschle would have settled on living on his Senate salary instead of Mrs. D. going to work as a transportation lobbyist pushing bills on which the senator votes.
• Democratic National Chairman Terry McAuliffe, instead of pocketing millions from his cozy relationship with the former chairman of defunct Global Crossing, would have donated it to the Little Sisters of the Poor.
• The folks who ran Arthur Andersen would have been content with good salaries as accountants, instead of mega-fees from acting as management consultants to the same clients they audited.
• Bernie Ebbers would have bought fewer giant cattle ranches and paid back the $400 million he borrowed from his company, WorldCom.
• Those Enron executives who cooked up the off-books partnerships which led to the company's ruin, would have settled for comfortable houses in the suburbs instead of McMansions and millions in stock options.
• Back in 1996, the Messrs. Clinton and Gore would have settled for campaigning on the issues instead of hustling contributions from the Chinese Communists, Indonesian gardeners and Thai bag ladies.
• ImClone's Dr. Waksal wouldn't have engaged in insider trading of his stock and thus would still be on the New York party circuit instead of sitting in jail.
• Martha Stewart wouldn't have worried about selling her ImClone stock before it imploded, so could have finished making that salad on television without all those distracting questions.
What a breath of fresh air this legislation will be for the whole nation. President Bush will sign the bill in the blink of an eye. Then Congress, having disposed of greed once and for all, can turn its attention to doing something about the weather.