WASHINGTON (CNN) - By overwhelming margins, the House and Senate Thursday passed a bill imposing stiff criminal penalties for corporate fraud and new restrictions and oversight of the accounting industry.
The House passed the measure 423-3; a few hours later, the Senate approved it 99-0, with Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., who is recovering from heart surgery, absent.
In a written statement, President Bush hailed passage of the measure, calling it a "victory for America's shareholders and employees."
"I look forward to signing these important reforms into law," he said. Plans are now underway for a signing ceremony "sometime next week" at the White House, a senior administration official told CNN.
"This shows progress in Washington on an issue that plays a key role in restoring confidence," the official said.
The bill calls for stiff criminal penalties for corporate executives who commit fraud. Chief executive officers or chief financial officers who certify false financial reports could get 20 years in prison and be fined $5 million. Shredding of documents could result in a 20-year sentence.
The bill also sets up an independent private-sector oversight board to watch over the industry and restricts accounting firms' ability to perform consulting work for companies they are auditing. In addition, the bill calls for the immediate disclosure of stock sales by company executives and prohibits companies from giving personal loans to top officials.
The measure passed Thursday was drafted by a House-Senate conference committee that reconciled different versions of the corporate responsibility measure. In April, the House passed a bill that was considered weaker than the Senate bill, but almost daily disclosures of corporate malfeasance prompted lawmakers to toughen it, bringing it closer to the Senate version.
The three votes against the bill in the House came from Republicans with histories of being opposed to regulation by big government: Reps. Mac Collins of Georgia, Ron Paul of Texas and Jeff Flake of Arizona.
But representatives from both parties praised their accomplishment.
"It's certainly better than that creampuff legislation that was out here last April," said Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y.
"This is a much better effort and deals to some extent -- to a significant extent -- with the real problems that were created as a result of the deregulation mania that swept through this House," he said, referring to the mid-1990s, Republican-led efforts to ease the regulations on corporations.
"I am proud of the bipartisan process that produced this legislation," said House Financial Services Committee Chairman Michael Oxley, R-Ohio. "Corporate responsibility is an investor and retiree issue. It is not a partisan issue, and those who would attempt to make it so do a real disservice to all of us."
A key sticking point in the bill had been the independence of the newly created accounting industry oversight board. Oxley said the senators agreed to a House demand that the board remain under the control and oversight of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The White House, pressured by falling stock prices and a public irate over the state of affairs in corporate America, had pushed Congress to craft a bill before it leaves for its August recess.
Commenting Wednesday on the legislative agreement, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill told CNN's Lou Dobbs Moneyline the deal would go a long way in assuring the public in the corporate governance process.
"I am really glad that they have passed a bill that they can send to the president," he said. "It will make it certain that those who abuse their authority end up in jail. I don't think it's a huge number of people, but we can now, I think, rest assured not only that people are voluntarily active, but they're going to now have to comply with the law of the land, which is much clearer than it was yesterday."
--CNN Congressional Correspondent Kate Snow and White House Correspondent Kelly Wallace contributed to this report