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Bush Urges Congress to Crack Down on Corporate Corruption - 2002-07-20


President Bush wants Congress to pass legislation cracking down on corporate corruption before lawmakers leave for their August recess. A series of American business scandals have shaken investor confidence.

President Bush said there are strong bills in both the Democratically controlled Senate and the Republican led House. He wants a law to sign by the end of the month.

"We must promote economic security by enforcing high ethical standards for American businesses," the president said. " Unethical business practices by corporate leaders amount to theft and fraud."

In his weekly radio address, the president said he will accept nothing less than complete honesty from corporate America.

A series of accounting scandals have contributed to a drop in the U.S. stock market which is now at its lowest level in four years.

The president said it is a crucial moment for the American economy. Economic fundamentals are strong and inflation and interest rates are low, he says, but confidence in America's free enterprise system is being tested.

"Unethical business conduct that began in the boom of the 1990s is being uncovered. Investors have lost money. Some in retirement have lost security. Workers have lost jobs, and the trust of the American people has been betrayed," Mr. Bush said. " As we face these economic challenges, my administration will do everything in its power to ensure business integrity and long-term growth. We must act quickly and aggressively on a variety of fronts to increase the economic security of the American people. "

The president said federal investigators are going after corporate fraud with "active prosecutions and tough enforcement" to defend what he called the "rights and interests of every American worker and shareholder."

Among those corporations under investigation for accounting practices is an oil firm that was led by Vice President Dick Cheney. In a news conference Wednesday, Mr. Bush said he is confident investigators will find Mr. Cheney has done nothing wrong.

Republicans want to put the issue of corporate corruption behind them before legislative elections in November. Democrats want to take advantage of the scandals by portraying Republicans as the party of big business.

The Democratic response to the president's weekly radio address focused on prescription drug coverage for senior citizens. But even there, Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone used the business scandals as reason to question how much corporations influence Republican decisionmaking.

"Was it really a good idea for America to let the powerful corporate lobbyists write the rules for corporate accounting or to let the polluters try to rewrite our environmental laws?" Senator Wellstone asked. " So now why should we let the giant drug companies write America's prescription drug plan?"

Wall Street's drop also spilled over into European markets where major indexes in London, Paris, and Frankfurt were all down about five percent. The dollar Friday sank to a two-and-a-half-year-low against the Euro and a 17-month low against the Japanese yen.