WS>>Those Immoderate 'Moderates'
carl william spitzer iv
cwsiv_2nd at JUNO.COM
Sat Nov 22 14:19:46 MST 2003
Wall Street Journal
If being a "moderate" in today's Washington means going
out of your way to thwart the will of current federal law,
send a vital industry into bankruptcy and hold the health of
America's children hostage, someone may have to redefine the
Consider the way the three Senate GOP "moderates" --
Maine's Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and Rhode Island's
Lincoln Chafee -- recently arm-twisted new Majority Leader
Bill Frist into repealing the vaccine liability provision
that passed in last year's Homeland Security bill. In return
for admiring press about how they stood up to "egregious
special interest provisions" (their words), the Senators
were willing to throw over childhood vaccines.
You wouldn't know this from the press coverage. But
all the "egregious" provisions did was protect vaccine
makers from class-action lawsuits over thimerosal, a pre-
servative that was in vaccines for 60 years and causes no
known harm. Parents who believe a vaccine injured their
child must usually go through the federal Vaccine Injury
Compensation Program before they can sue in regular courts.
But tort lawyers, representing a group of parents who claim
that thimerosal causes autism, found loopholes around VICP.
Their lawsuits, now numbering more than 200 (and one
alone claiming $30 billion in damages), could bankrupt the
four remaining major makers of all childhood vaccines --
exactly what VICP was designed by Congress in 1986 to prev-
ent. All the Homeland Security provision did was uphold the
law by making thimerosal claims go through the program like
all others. But since VICP doesn't pad trial lawyers' pock-
ets, Senate Democrats tried to strip the provision; when
that failed the Magnificent Moderates rode to the lawyers'
rescue, demanding that Mr. Frist kill it.
This had to have been a tough decision for the Sena-
te's only doctor, who spent the last Congress trying to pass
a bill to reform VICP along the same lines. But Senator
Frist is going to need these "moderates" if he is to prevail
on core Republican issues like taxes or Medicare reform. He
agreed to take out the provisions, in return for the North-
easterners promise to bring up his entire reform package
within six months -- just enough time for trial lawyers to
rally Democrats to filibuster.
We called the good moderates for an explanation,
expecting to hear about the evils of VICP and thimerosal.
But we were amazed to be told that the Senators have no
evidence that the preservative causes autism, and in fact
support the program and want it strengthened.
No, what they objected to was the "dark of the night"
insertion of the provision at the end of the last Congress.
As if that is unheard of in the Senate, or for spending
projects in, say, the state of Maine. The Senators also
noted that VICP's statute of limitations would have denied
some parents a thimerosal hearing. But that problem could
have been remedied now, rather than in six months or never,
by passing Senator Frist's reforms in addition to the li-
What really seems to be going on here is that the GOP
"moderates" wanted, immoderately, to demonstrate their
clout. So they fixed on an issue that the media had made a
Beltway cause celebre last month, and made a public display
of showing the new Majority Leader who's boss.
We hope they liked the press clippings. Because if
they don't follow through on their word and pass more exten-
sive vaccine-liability reform this year, we'll know who to
blame for the next shortage in childhood vaccines for teta-
nus and whooping cough.
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