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-
     ability provision.

           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.,,SB1043015527430008344,00.html?mod=opinion%5Fmain%5Freview%5Fand%5Foutlooks

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