- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 11, 2002

House Republican leaders told their rank and file yesterday that Democrats are heaping election-year blame on them for corporate financial scandals and that Republicans can't rely solely on President Bush to defend them.
"The Democrats want to play politics with this issue," Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois told a closed-door meeting of Republican lawmakers at the Capitol. "They are desperate for any issue that will give them momentum. We need to fight back."
Republican lawmakers in general praised Mr. Bush's call Tuesday for a crackdown on corporate crime. But incumbents already jittery about the effects of a sluggish economy on the November elections said they, too, must remind voters that congressional Republicans approved bills this past spring to improve corporate accountability and protect pensions.
Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican, said the president made a "glancing reference" to these accomplishments on Tuesday but his speech could have gone further.
"He should have said, 'Folks, let me tell you what the Republican Congress has done,'" Mr. Pence said. "That helps us go home and make our case. People are concerned, they're outraged. And in a low turnout election, this could be the kind of issue that resonates."
Meanwhile, Democrats kept up their pressure, with House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri starting a petition to bring up a Democratic bill on corporate accountability for a floor vote.
"We are discharging this plan today because the House Republican majority has consistently worked to stifle any meaningful legislative action to correct instances of corporate abuse and restore faith in our free-market system," he said.
"I think he needs to back up his rhetoric with action," Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat, said of Mr. Bush. "We need much stronger legislation and leadership."
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, blamed Republicans for "slow-walking" a bill to create a corporate oversight board. Mr. Daschle ridiculed as a "poison pill" a Republican amendment to hold labor unions to equally strict standards.
"If they continue to thwart the effort with frivolous amendments, then that's a pretty good indication they're not supportive" of reform, Mr. Daschle told reporters.
The Democrats' attacks provoked a scathing reply from Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, who said corporate excess was a legacy of the Clinton era.
"That so many Clinton Democrats are today shocked by the corporate application of Clinton ethics 'It depends on what the meaning of "expense" is' is shocking," Mr. Davis told Republicans in a strategy memo. "Republicans should not be crouching under the table on this issue; instead, we should make it known that we are fixing the problems and we should expose the Democrat Party's exploitation of this issue as cynical and hypocritical election-year opportunism."
"The president could declare next Sunday grandmother's day and there would be partisan attacks that he left out other members of the family," said Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, New York Republican.
Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, said he simply does not see the issue "having legs for the Democrats" in the elections.
Mr. Davis said the spate of corporate corruption "all began in the 1990s and were shaped by a culture of dishonesty and situational ethics that flowed directly from the White House."
"A lack of accountability, dishonesty, evasion and dissemblance are the true legacies of the Clinton era," he said.


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