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In the Crossfire

Are Republicans soft on corporate abuses?

(CNN) -- Congress has been working overtime to pass legislation that cracks down on corporate abuses. Was the Bush administration's stance on business practices a factor leading to the fall? Do Democrats want a campaign issue more than a bill? Rep. David Dreier, R-California, steps into the "Crossfire" with host Paul Begala to defend his party's stance against corrupt big business.

BEGALA: The Washington Post today revealed your party's strategy on Capitol Hill. In a front-page story, the Post said, and I quote, "One day after the Senate unanimously passed a broad overhaul of corporate and securities laws, top House Republicans said they will try to delay and likely dilute some of the proposed changes."

We have an epidemic of corporate fraud and criminality going on and your party stands for delay and dilute, Congressman?

DREIER: You know, Paul, I will tell you that once again The Washington Post is absolutely wrong. I totally agree with Ralph Nader. Anyone who is going to be soft on the issue of corporate crime will in fact lose votes. And I will tell you this. There is no American who is more outraged over the kinds of criminal activity that we've seen from corporate executives by intentionally cooking the books and not being straightforward and transparent with shareholders and employees than George W. Bush. And I will tell you the Republican majority in the United States House of Representatives shares that outrage. And let me just say...

BEGALA: Well, congressman, that article...

DREIER: That article, Paul, is absolutely wrong.

We are determined to do everything that we possibly can to ensure that we get legislation completed this week coming. And I will tell you, the House bill we have is a very strong bill. It was passed on April 24 with 119 Democrats joining us in support of that measure, and it was done just a few weeks after the president called for action. And I will tell you this, the Senate has finally just acted. I'm happy that they have. I believe that the House bill is as strong or stronger than the Senate bill when it comes to disclosure and transparency.

BEGALA: And, congressman, you began this answer by telling me that no one was tougher on corporate crime. Let me hold you to your own record. Like almost every single member of your party, Congressman, you voted to override President Clinton's veto on December 20, 1995, of the Public Securities Litigation Reform Act, a law that made it easier for corporate rip-off artists to rip off investors without being held accountable.

President Clinton said at the time our markets are as strong and effective as they are because they operate and/or seem to operate with integrity. I believe that this bill, as modified in conference, could erode this crucial basis of our market's strengths. Wasn't President Clinton right and weren't you wrong?

DREIER: No. I mean, let me just say, obviously, at that time, I don't believe that it was the kind of problem that we needed to address, and the sorts of issues that now come out had not come out at that time. I think that we were on track and doing the right thing, and I think President Clinton was wrong. But I will tell you this...

BEGALA: The law that you passed made it made it easier for these con artists to steal and harder for innocent citizens to claim their rights.

DREIER: You could completely misunderstand. I don't believe that it's a law that has made it in any way easier for that activity to take place. I'll tell you what I do believe is important. I do believe it's important for us to empower the Securities and Exchange Commission, and Harvey Pitt was so strong when he made the statement that no one will be free.




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