- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 29, 2002

President Bush yesterday vowed that the Justice Department will hold responsible business executives who mismanage their companies, lie to stockholders and cheat investors, as Republicans and Democrats blamed each other for the recent wave of scandals.
"Corporate America has got to understand there is a higher calling than trying to fudge the numbers, trying to slip a billion here or a billion there and hope nobody notices," Mr. Bush said at a $500,000 fund-raiser for Rep. Constance A. Morella, Maryland Republican.
Following WorldCom's announcement earlier this week that it misrepresented $3.8 billion in expenses, Xerox stated yesterday that it also had overstated revenue by billions of dollars.
Former Vice President Al Gore, however, put the onus for the recent corporate scandals and its toll on investors and employees squarely on Mr. Bush's economic policies.
"You see now what it means to have an administration that's committed to fighting and working on behalf of the powerful, and letting the people of this country get the short end of the stick," Mr. Gore told more than 200 supporters at a Democratic fund-raiser at a trendy Manhattan nightspot.
"What we see now is a lack of confidence in our national economic policy, in the integrity of our accounting system, in the way government is being run," Mr. Gore said, in what was his strongest attack on the president to date.
Mr. Bush has been on the offensive for three days but his target so far has been the corrupt practices of some corporate executives and not the Democrats in Congress. The president today in his radio address to the nation will urge Congress to approve his plan to make corporate executives more responsible. He also will use a speech next month in New York to drive home the same message, White House officials confirmed.
Both public and internal Republican polls show Mr. Bush and his party are vulnerable on the issue. Even voters who support Mr. Bush say in response to questions in these polls that the president is too closely tied to big business.
While Mr. Bush is keeping himself above the political fight, this week his Securities and Exchange Commission chairman, Harvey L. Pitt, and Mr. Bush's top economic adviser, Lawrence Lindsey, both blamed the corporate scandals that began breaking last year on the lax regulations of the "go-go '90s," when President Clinton was in charge.
In response, the Democratic National Committee said the administration was responsible for the recent corruption in big business. "The Bush administration should realize they have been in the White House for a year and a half and should stop looking for places to lay blame and show some leadership instead," said Bill Buck, spokesman for Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, in an interview with The Washington Times.
"The American people need look no further than at Vice President [Richard B.] Cheney and President Bush for examples of corporate leaders who have been investigated by the SEC or may come under investigation," Mr. Buck said.
Despite the recent corporate scandals, Mr. Bush's approval numbers remain high. Polls continue to show voters giving Mr. Bush high marks for bringing a new tone of bipartisan civility to Washington.
Two-thirds of likely voters say he has "improved the tone in Washington today" and has made "significant efforts to reach out to Democrats," according to the latest bipartisan Battleground Poll.
However, with the midterm congressional elections on the horizon, some Republicans are worried that the recent announcements of corporate misbehavior will undermine Mr. Bush's popularity and that of his party.
The president's vulnerability one that party analysts fear could hurt congressional Republicans in the November election campaign is reflected in the 52 percent majority of voters who view Mr. Bush as "being too tied to big business and the wealthy," according to the Battleground Poll. Voters also are about evenly divided over whether he is paying enough attention to the economy and domestic issues.
Asked to respond to Mr. Gore's attacks on Mr. Bush's economic policies, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said only that the "president is focused on America's workers and employees and the responsibility that corporate CEOs have to be aboveboard and adhere to higher ethical standards."
But Jim Dyke, spokesman for Republican National Committee Chairman Marc Racicot, shot back at Mr. Gore, who won the popular vote against Mr. Bush in the 2000 presidential election but lost his home state of Tennessee.
"The fact that President Bush and the Republicans have a positive agenda for America and are willing to address serious problems in a serious way is reflected in a recent Bloomberg poll that has the president beating Gore 56 percent to 32 percent," said Mr. Dyke of a hypothetical 2004 rematch. "I would also suggest that instead of trying to mend fences with New York Democrats by using white-hot rhetoric, the [former] vice president should start in his own back yard."
In Tennessee, the Bloomberg poll shows that Mr. Gore's unfavorable rating among likely voters is 49 percent while his favorable rating is only 42 percent.
Mr. Bush's favorable rating in the state is 77 percent, and his unfavorables are only 18 percent.


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