- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 17, 2002

President Bush is increasingly pinning blame for the recent corporate scandals and the slumping stock market on the Clinton era of "binge" prosperity.

A major test of his handling of the flap and the media's continued interest in it will be today's presidential press conference in the East Room of the White House.

During a press conference last week, Mr. Bush was peppered with detailed questions about corporate fraud and his business practices from a dozen years ago.

Since then, Mr. Bush has taken a more aggressive stance in pointing out that the seeds of today's corporate scandals and stock market woes were planted in the 1990s. He has likened the Clinton era of prosperity to a bout of "binge" drinking and the current comedown as a "hangover."

The administration is expected to continue to point out that the corporate accounting scandals that have come to light in Mr. Bush's first 18 months in office actually began in the mid-to-late 1990s, when Bill Clinton was president. Companies inflated revenues to keep their stock prices sky high with the rest of the market.

Their schemes began to unravel in March of 2000, when the Nasdaq crashed and fell 48 percent that year.

Among the firms that exaggerated revenues in the bull market of the late 1990s were Xerox, Enron, Rite Aid, Global Crossing, Tyco, Adelphia and MicroStrategy. New documents show that telecommunications giant WorldCom began fudging the numbers in 2000.

Democrats have been quick to use the corporate scandals to portray the administration as too closely tied to big business. But some Republicans yesterday rose to the president's defense. These included Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky, who vented his frustration during a committee appearance by Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan.

"I think it'd be nice if some of the political opponents would stop taking potshots at the president for things that started long before he came into office," Mr. Bunning said.

But Democrats have continued their campaign to link Mr. Bush with the struggling stock market and scandal-plagued corporations. They have questioned his business dealings at Harken Energy and Vice President Richard B. Cheney's business dealings at Halliburton.

Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, opened a new front against Mr. Bush by ridiculing his long-standing support for a plan to partially privatize Social Security.

"Those who wanted to create privatized accounts in Social Security and hook them to the stock market might take a look at the market in recent days and see whether they might run out of money real quick with their plan," Mr. Dorgan said. "One might enjoy, it seems to me, having a discussion about the merit of that idea these days."

White House officials said they would not be surprised if the president is asked a new batch of financial questions during today's joint press conference with Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski. But they suggested that continued attacks by the press and Democrats could backfire.

"If Democrats or anybody else want to play the blame game, they do so at their own peril," said a senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "This sort of Washington sniping game is not something that the president, nor real people concern themselves with. It's not what he focuses on."

"People are looking for answers, for solutions to problems," the official said. "They care about the economy, whether they can afford a house, whether they will be able to send their children to college."

"They're not looking for politicians to play the blame game," the official added. "Frankly, they probably don't care who is to blame."

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