(CNSNews.com) - A top Republican had strong language for dishonest chief executive officers Tuesday after President Bush delivered a speech calling for more corporate responsibility. House Republican Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) thinks corporate CEOs should be held criminally responsible for "criminal actions" that harm Americans' retirement security.
"Corporate criminals who steal from their employee's retirement funds should enjoy the same jail cells as street thugs who steal handbags," DeLay said.
"President Bush has taken a strong stance in filling the moral deficit in corporate America," he said. "The anything goes permissive attitude of the 1990s has created an environment where some executives think they are above the law."
DeLay says now is the time that corporate CEOs should be held "criminally accountable" when they break the law.
Similar sentiment came from Thomas Donohue, president of the United States Chamber of Commerce.
"The president made it clear: fraud and corruption by our business leaders will not be tolerated," he said.
But Donohue thinks not all business executives are dishonest.
"We must not lose sight of the executives at the 17-thousand public companies in the U.S. who every day go about their work with honesty and high ethical standards," he said. "We must remain focused on fixing the problems at hand and not leveraging the misconduct of a few bad players for political gain."
Donohue added that Congress should strengthen the current economic infrastructure without compromising job creation and entrepreneurship.
But the environmental group Friends of the Earth doesn't think tougher standards are going to restore people's confidence in corporations.
"President Bush's promise to deliver tough regulatory standards to financial markets won't mean a thing if he continues to relax and evade environmental regulation,' said Friends of the Earth President Brent Blackwelder.
"Otherwise, he's continuing to allow big business to profit at the expense of Americans by polluting our air, land and water," he said.
The California-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights says Bush's plan won't go far enough because it places "too much responsibility in the hands of CEOs" and will devastate "pensioners, employees and investors."
"The Bush plan offers too little, too late," said FTCR spokesman Doug Heller. "It is like chemotherapy after the cancer has spread. Corporate America needs preventative medicine that will root out fraud before it spreads and devastates investors.
"President Bush is focusing too much on the CEOs and ignoring the institutional silence that keeps fraud hidden," Heller concluded. "To effectively protect the public from more fraud, we must punish the executives who stay silent while investors are duped."
E-mail a news tip to Jim Burns.
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.