Congress, known for partisanship and procrastination, usually moves with all the haste of molasses in January. But when an issue is important enough, Congress can move with lightning speed.
Such was the case this week as both the Senate and House rammed through super-tough, anti-fraud measures designed to restore investors' faith in corporate America.
The two bills are much the same now; minor differences should be worked out easily in House-Senate conference. President Bush is expected to sign any fraud-fighting bill that reaches his desk.
As a general rule, more regulations are bad for the market, but bookkeeping and corruption scandals are worse. Congress is right, therefore, to shout its disapproval loud and clear and try to set Wall Street on a more trustworthy path. It's encouraging that Congress' action not only came quickly, but also enjoyed wide, bipartisan support. Democrats and Republicans can agree when the stakes are high enough.
Hopefully, stiffer regulations and harsher punishment for corrupt corporate officers, coupled with more active federal oversight, will eventually reassure not only domestic investors, but foreign investors as well.
If Wall Street's health doesn't soon improve, Main Street's economic recovery won't last much longer. Americans benefit immensely when global investors see U.S. currency and equities as a "safe haven" in an unsafe world.
Yet tougher rules and regulations alone won't get the job done. Congress and the Bush administration must also find several million extra dollars in the trillion dollar federal budget to pay for more regulators to enforce them.
It's too much to expect, but wouldn't it be great if Congress applied to itself the same strong accounting and bookkeeping standards that it's imposing on corporate America. If corporations funded pension plans the way Congress funds Social Security the nation's prisons would soon be overflowing with CEOs.