WASHINGTON -- Amid a stock market nosedive, President Bush pressed Congress on Saturday to act quickly on a tough package of reforms to fight business fraud, saying "the trust of the American people has been betrayed" by recent corporate scandals.
Bush used his weekly radio address to keep pressure on lawmakers to complete work on a compromise bill before the August recess.
"I am confident that the differences between the House and Senate approaches can be bridged," he said.
Members of Congress didn't seem to need too much prodding, particularly in light of Friday's 400-point selloff that brought the Dow Jones Industrial average to its lowest level in nearly four years. House and Senate negotiators met for the first time Friday to begin writing a final version of the bill, and staff members from both sides were working through the weekend.
Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, said his fellow negotiators already had "unanimous agreement on about 90 percent of the issues." The panel is expected to resume its deliberations early next week.
"Unethical business practices by corporate leaders amount to theft and fraud," Bush said. "These practices are unacceptable, and we are fighting them with active prosecutions and tough enforcement" by the Securities and Exchange Commission, he said.
"We will not accept anything less than complete honesty," Bush said.
Both the Democratic-sponsored Senate bill and the Republican-sponsored House version create new criminal penalties for business fraud and tighten oversight of the accounting industry, but would do so in different ways.
Bush said both would "toughen penalties and provide transparency and hold corporate executives accountable for their behavior."
He said some members of Congress are suggesting it would take up to two months for a final bill to be on his desk, but "there is no good reason for the legislative process to take that long,"
The president also said his administration "will do everything in its power to ensure business integrity and long-term growth."
In a Democratic response, Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar said Bush and his administration "have only paid lip service" in calling for a corporate cleanup.
"With their hands-off regulatory approach, they are the ones who gave the green light for this kind of corporate excess," Salazar said in a Spanish language broadcast beamed to Hispanic audiences. "Democrats have taken the lead on this issue of corporate responsibility."
He said the Senate-passed bill is tougher than the House version, "but the president still hasn't embraced this bill -- which gives one the impression he's unwilling to do anything substantive to address the problem."
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