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Stinkbomb Postlude

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Now that the effluvium from former high-flying lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s stinkbomb is starting to disseminate through the chambers on Capitol Hill, it is going to be interesting to see how long it takes Congress to get around to passing legislation of importance to the nation, not to mention the life insurance business.

My guess is that between the Senate confirmation hearings for Samuel Alito to be elevated to the Supreme Court and the fallout from Abramoff’s guilty plea arrangement with federal authorities, it is going to be later rather than sooner for action on pressing items.

It is hard to imagine Congress being any more paralyzed than it has been, with precious little to show for its efforts. To say the least, this Congress’s record is perhaps the worst possible argument for one-party government ever.

Abramoff, who has emerged as the most expert scammer of American Indians since Peter Menuet shelled out $24 worth of shiny beads for Manhattan, is probably going to take more than a few congressmen down with him. Many on the Hill were the recipients of his money-wrapped blandishments.

It is pathetically comical to see politicians sanctimoniously donating their Abramoff contributions to charity, now that he has pleaded guilty to federal crimes. From the $6,000 that he donated to the Bush campaign to the $69,000 (!) that House Speaker Dennis Hastert suddenly realized was tainted–this should be a windfall year for charities of all stripes. Do these politicians seriously think that anyone believes they didn’t know this money was radioactive in the first place?

Meanwhile, there is a ton of legislation on hold and much of it contains provisions of high interest to the life insurance business. Let’s face it, the business could use a few legislative victories after the drubbing it’s taken in the last few years. The most recent and disheartening example, of course, was the exclusion of group life insurance from the newly extended Terrorism Risk Insurance Act at the insistence of the industry’s friends in the White House and Senate.

You’ll find a rundown of many of these up-in-the-air issues in Arthur Postal’s story on page 6 where the listing of provisions desired by the business–but on seemingly endless hold–seems to go on and on.

One would hope that in the face of a situation like the Abramoff scandal Congress would become hyperactive in taking care of business. That it would attempt to move expeditiously to pass, among other pieces of legislation, the overdue budget bills. That it would try to become a civics textbook example of how a responsible legislature should act. But don’t count on any forays into the realm of good government from the current crop of representatives and senators. Many of them are going to be too busy making sure that they pick the charities that will repay the most PR benefit as recipients of the now-lethal Abramoff contributions.

(I have some questions for these charities: Why should money that is tainted in its origin be any less tainted once it is transformed into a charitable donation? Why would any self-respecting charity accept such donations?)

In the meantime, the life insurance business will have to remain on tenterhooks that much longer. Not a pleasant prospect as the stink gets stronger.

Steve Piontek



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