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Corporate Responsibility

Excerpt from July 30, 2002 Press Briefing with
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer

Click here for the full transcript

QUESTION: Ari, the consumer confidence number is out today. It's a nine-point drop, the lowest since February. What do you attribute that to, and how do you think the legislation signed today will affect them?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think you've seen a variety of economic statistics and data come out, most of it good, some of it not good, much of it in recent -- in terms of consumer confidence, reflecting the market's drop in the last month or so. And so some of that is to be expected as a follow-on to the market.

Of course, as the President has noted and as he said in his remarks today, that many of the measures that make up the strength of the economy are solid, and that includes low inflation, low interest rates, growth, the growth in the economy for the first quarter in excess of six percentage points. Tomorrow, there will be new figures released for what the economy grew in the second quarter -- I think it's tomorrow or maybe Thursday we get the newest GDP figures for second quarter growth. And so there are plenty of signs to look to in the economy to see the strength that the President sees.

Unemployment, by historical standards, is rather low, as well. And so these are all the factors that drive economies. But there's no question that there are some worrisome signs like consumer confidence. And this is why the President has called on the Congress to complete its action, so Congress can take its responsibility to help give the economy an even bigger boost. There are several measures of economic activity that are pending in the Congress, several measures that can boost the country's economy, and that's why the President wants the Congress to pass them, because he's ready to sign them.

QUESTION: Ari, why, again, no individual company CEOs at today's event? I know the head of the Business Roundtable, Richard Grasso, from the New York Stock Exchange, but no individual company CEOs there. What message does that send?

MR. FLEISCHER: If you looked at the room, most of the people in there were United States senators, United States congressmen, members of the Cabinet, the members of the task force; so, many people in the government who worked on the legislation. The head of the Business Roundtable was there representing CEOs. It's a message that's important for them to hear, and I think it's fair to say they heard it. And the Business Roundtable is their representative.

QUESTION: Ari, by what measure will you gauge the effectiveness of the bill the President signed today? An increase in prosecutions, a decrease, indicating that CEOs are -- or will it be effective if people just think that corporate accountability has been increased and so investment goes up?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it will be effective by virtue of the fact that the Securities and Exchange Commission is now going to have more authority and more through the Independent Accounting Board to oversee the accounting industry; more authority, more ability to police the books and make sure that they're accurate.

And that's what this is all about. This has been a crisis in which the American people did not know that they could read a financial statement and believe that it was honest and accurate. And as a result of this legislation, as a result of the SEC's order for recertification, I think the American people are going to see they can have more faith, more accuracy, and more reliability in the records of America's corporations. And the corporate leaders certainly have been put on notice that if they violate the law, this government will prosecute them.

QUESTION: What's the measure, though, that you would use to gauge the effectiveness? How will you know that this bill was effective?

MR. FLEISCHER: As a result of having more accuracy on the records and on the books.

QUESTION: Ari, in listing the things that the President wants to see Congress get done this fall, you didn't mention making permanent the tax cuts. Of course, many Democrats want to roll back some of those tax cuts. Is that just a recognition on your part that it's not going to happen, that you're at an impasse on this?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, of course, the President has long called for permanent tax cuts. What I went through is the status of the major bills that are actually pending in the Congress. Nothing has passed -- well, legislation has passed in the House, but it's not moving in the Senate to make several of the tax cuts permanent. The President would like to see that done.

But what I walked through is what is actually practical and reasonable, that the Congress very well may get done. And these are issues that if they do -- look, this has already been 18 months of a lot of accomplishment for the American people. When you take a look at what has already been signed into law in the first 18 months of President Bush's term, given the fact, especially, that he began with a Senate and a House of his party, and then the Senate flipped parties, how much work has actually been done, how many laws have been enacted into law, and how many now have potential to be enacted into law -- particularly if the Senate this week is able to finish trade promotion authority.