GOP Urged to Resist Taking Blame for Corporate fraud.(NATION)

Article excerpt

Byline: Dave Boyer and Amy Fagan, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

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. …