While in college, a term I heard uttered with alarming frequency was "buzzkill." It was, as you've probably surmised, used to describe receiving bad news, or a person whose mere presence immediately siphoned away a good "buzz" at a party or concert.Not that college was the high-water mark in terms of my life's accomplishments. With more than a touch of sarcastic pride, my father is fond of telling anyone who will listen that it took his eldest son just three terms to graduate college: Nixon's, Ford's and Carter's. Talk about buzzkill.
In that same vein, I doubt any former collegian would sense more buzzkill than what's been emanating from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue these days - especially in response to economic issues.
Admittedly no stranger to the pleasures of a good buzz, the nation's chief executive has been on the receiving end of relentless buzzkill, which began about 90 seconds after he was sworn in for a second term. And I'm not even speaking about the debacle known as the administration's foreign policy. That would take buzzkill to another level.
What were designated the economic centerpieces of his second term - Social Security and tax reform - are now primed for the CBS network. His plan to privatize Social Security is currently auditioning for an upcoming episiode of CSI - it's that dead. Meanwhile, tax reform is currently being shopped around to the producers of Without a Trace.
But that's yesterday's buzzkill.
More recently, the third Treasury secretary in the Bush administration, Henry Paulson, appears to have some different ideas about one of the few laudable accomplishments of the past six years - the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. In a recent interview, Wall Street veteran Paulson said that in the aftermath of corporate scandals such as Enron and WorldCom, too often the "pendulum swings too far," referring to the corrective mandates contained in SOX.
Meanwhile, the man who actually is charged with its enforcement, Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox, staunchly defended the act, particularly the most divisive and oft-complained-about of all its sections - 404 - the part that requires top management to sign off on their internal controls. To his credit, Cox has never wavered in his support for the bill.
As readers may recall, Cox listened to the recommendations made by an SEC advisory council regarding possible rollbacks and easing of rules for smaller filers, and then unilaterally declared that there wouldn't be a rollback, just an extension. Cox explained that the requirement that auditors check 404 compliance was produced "in the cauldron of great public anxiety and a sense of urgency."
A buzzkill for smaller filers for sure, but Cox later was quoted as explaining that his agency didn't require radical new legislation to hone SOX, and that the commission has what he termed "ample regulatory working authority" with the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board to ensure that 404 implementation aligns with what lawmakers intended when they passed the legislation.
It will be interesting to follow this developing mini-drama - should it escalate to any degree - between COX and Paulson. But with regard to reshaping SOX, remember that it's Cox who holds the power of enforcement. And it's the resident of the Oval Office who will undoubtedly receive the buzzkill.
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