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Bush on Wall Street

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle evoked the ghost of Teddy Roosevelt with his critique of President Bush's Tuesday speech about corporate wrongdoing.

Bush, Daschle said, "spoke loudly, but he offered a very, very small stick." Roosevelt, of course, loved to quote the proverb, "Speak softly and carry a big stick."

Daschle, as the leader of the opposition party and with presidential aspirations of his own, would find nothing good to say about Bush's speech, no matter if the president called for everything Democrats want in corporate reform.

But there was much good about Bush's speech, which was filled with stern language aimed at corporate executives. "The business pages of American newspapers should not read like a scandal sheet," he said. And, "My administration will do everything in our power to end the days of cooking the books, shading the truth and breaking our laws."

Among the reforms Bush touted:

Doubled prison terms for those convicted of corporate fraud.

A better-funded Securities and Exchange Commission to better police corporations.

A 10-point accountability plan with provisions such as forcing corporate officers who benefit from false accounting statements to forfeit their ill-gotten gains; banning corporate leaders who are convicted of abusing their powers from ever serving again as officers of a publicly held corporation; ordering nearly 1,000 public companies to certify that the financial information they submitted in the past year was fair and accurate.

A corporate fraud task force to investigate and prosecute "major accounting fraud and other criminal activity."

What the president didn't push and should have was new oversight of auditors and prohibitions against auditors' conflicts of interest, such as consulting for and auditing the same company. Much of the recent corporate wrongdoing has centered on auditing failures, yet Bush barely mentioned auditors.

Bush may not have carried as big a stick as Daschle demanded, but the president gave, byand large, a strong speech designed to restore corporate integrity and investor confidence.

"By reasserting the best values of our country, we will reclaim the promise of our economy," Bush said.

His suggested reforms are a good start toward that end.

The Birmingham News

July 11, 2002