WASHINGTON – In a climate rife with corporate scandal, the biggest boost to the U.S. economy could well come from reviving the public's confidence in business leadership, President Bush said Saturday.
"Perhaps the greatest need for our economy at this moment is restoring confidence in the integrity of the American business leaders," Bush said in his weekly radio address.
"Nearly every week brings news of greater productivity or strong consumer spending," the president said, "but also a discovery of fraud and scandal, problems long in the making and now coming to light."
Responding in the Democrats address, Rep. David Phelps, D-Ill., said investors and workers expect Bush to put a stop to the corruption.
The congressman said Americans want "immediate action to clean up this wrongdoing and pass tougher rules that will hopefully prevent future scandals."
He cited proposals Congress is considering that seek to tackle the issue by cracking down on corporate crime, protecting investors and company employees and restoring faith in the stock market.
Bush said his administration is working with Congress to pass such legislation and "will not stop working until a final bill is passed."
The president noted actions he proposed early this week to rein in corporate wrongdoing.
Those proposals include doubling jail time for financial fraud, creating a new Justice Department task force to investigate corporate misdeeds and requesting an additional $100 million to give the Securities and Exchange Commission "the technology it needs to better enforce the law."
Phelps contended the opportunity for bipartisan reform has been blocked by special interest groups.
"Enough is enough," Phelps said.
But Bush scolded Congress, especially the Democratic-controlled Senate, for failing to pass an anti-terrorism spending bill, which he said must reach his desk soon to ensure that the military does not run short of spare parts, that 1,100 airport bomb detectors can be installed on schedule and that 35,000 air traffic employees will not have to be furloughed.
"Congress must fund our troops while they're fighting a war and Congress must provide funds to continue improving security at our airports," Bush said in his address.
But even some top Republicans have said that the White House, not Congress, is to blame for the inaction. They say the Office of Management and Budget insists on eliminating from the outlays programs that are necessary for the country's well-being.
"The president is ill-served by what is going on,'' Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, top GOP member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Friday. Stevens said White House budget officials are blindly adhering to a bottom-line number "without regard to the needs of the country at all."
The White House threatened a veto of the $31.5 billion Senate version for the budget year ending in September on grounds it was inflated with spending projects unrelated to national security. It pushed for a figure closer to the $29 billion House-passed bill.
Negotiators from both chambers say they are in general agreement on a $30.4 billion bill, but White House budget chief Mitch Daniels is demanding that programs be trimmed to reduce the total.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.