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Senator Harry Reid Takes His Gloves Off For Asbestos Victims: To Bill Frist, "[S. 852] Is Plagued By Massive Uncertainties . . .


Senator Harry Reid (D) recentlysent a letterto Senator Bill Frist (R) responding to Frist's support of S. 852, otherwise known as the national asbestos trust fund bill. The bill is viewed by many, including asbestos victims, labor unions, insurers, and small and mid-sized companies, as a sweetheart deal for asbestos producers and suppliers that have vigorously lobbied for the bill and against victims' rights.

Sen. Reid states emphatically and unequivocally in the letter that he will not support the controversial bill.

To summarize, Sen. Reid warns that S. 852 is not ready for consideration by the Senate due to its "massive uncertainties" concerning companies' willingness and ability to pay into the trust. If the bill passes, thousands of asbestos victims will be left without any recourse while the government attempts to collect necessary funds.

The "centerpiece" of S. 852 is a $140 billion government-run trust fund to "compensate" victims of asbestos. However, the adequacy and solvency of this trust fund "remain in serious doubt," Sen. Reid warns.

Among the proposed legislation's many problems:

  • The proposed trust fund is inadequate to compensate the number of victims who will likely file claims. Numerous experts have concluded that the cost of the program will far exceed the amount allotted for the trust fund. T he Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the program may cost more than $150 billion, while consulting firms have placed estimates between $300-$600 billion.
  • Even assuming that $140 billion were adequate (which is unlikely), it's not clear there will be enough solvent companies willing and able to contribute.
  • While supporters of the bill claim that there are between 8,000 and 10,000 companies willing to contribute, the Congressional Budget Office could only identify 1,700. A federal bailout of this magnitude would have enormous adverse consequences to the federal budget. The only alternatives to fund the trust would be to reduce compensation to injured victims or supplement the privately raised revenue with tax dollars.
  • The names of alleged participating companies have remained under lock and key by supporters of the bill. Major lobbying firms that helped draft the bill possess this information, but have withheld this information from the Senate and asbestos victims.

Accordingly, questions such as the actual cost of the program, the amount that will have to be financed by the government, and whether the proposed funding will be sufficient to compensate all qualifying claims remain unanswered.

Asbestos victims, labor unions, insurers and small and mid-sized business all oppose the bill. Based on all of these considerations, Sen. Reid refuses to support the bill and is strongly encouraging senators who support the bill to reconsider their position.

Roger G. Worthington