White House 'very close' on corporate responsibility bill
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration is "very close" to reaching an agreement with Democrats on legislation calling for greater corporate responsibility and auditing oversight, White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said Wednesday.
Four congressional leaders discussed the matter with President Bush at a working breakfast in the Oval Office.
While Bush prodded them to move forward on trade promotion legislation, homeland security, and other domestic issues, Buchan indicated that "the policy differences aren't that great" on the corporate responsibility legislation.
Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Maryland, has introduced a bill that would create an independent regulatory board to oversee the auditing industry. The sticking point is the jurisdictional duties of the new board and the SEC.
The White House is concerned some duties may overlap between the two agencies, causing confusion and inefficiency.
The White House's solution: The independent regulatory board would be responsible for making sure the accounting industry adheres to "professional standards, ethics, and competence." The SEC would be responsible for enforcing securities law. The independent board would ultimately be accountable to the SEC, which would have the final say on disciplinary matters over the accounting industry.
This option is seen as a possible compromise that would satisfy both sides. Bush can assure the accounting industry that the SEC is still in charge, instead of a completely independent entity that may be more restrictive. And the Democrats can walk away assuring skittish investors there will be an independent group watching out for auditing irregularities.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, one of the leaders at the breakfast said, "There is more agreement than disagreement between the parties, between the House and Senate and the president, as to what we should do.
"The House made progress, the Sarbanes bill has, I think, some improvements over the House bill. The president has recommend some stiffer punishments, criminal punishments, than is in either bill, and I think we're moving forward with the possibility in a bipartisan way of doing some things that will be helpful without doing damage," Lott said.
"And, if we'll stop trying to figure out who gets the blame and playing the blame game and actually get to work on getting some things done, I think we can help in restoring confidence in the corporate world, and move forward and try and encourage economic growth," he said.
Lott said that making sure regulators don't overlap is a major concern.
"I think we need the independent oversight board, and I think we need an aggressive SEC, simultaneously, but we don't want to set it up in such a way that they wind up tripping over each other and neither one of them actually doing a good job," he said.
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