Wash. Post misleadingly described failure of asbestos bill a "victory for Democrats"


A Washington Post article characterized a Senate vote blocking a bill that would have created a trust fund for asbestos victims as a "victory for Democrats and their trial-lawyer allies." In fact, 11 Republicans voted with Democrats to prevent the bill from moving forward.

The opening paragraph in a February 15 Washington Post article by staff writer Shailagh Murray characterized a Senate procedural vote blocking a bill that would have created a trust fund for asbestos victims as a "victory for Democrats and their trial-lawyer allies." In fact, as Murray noted a few sentences later, 11 Republicans joined Democrats in preventing the bill from moving forward, and later in the article, noted that "the bill created unlikely coalitions, both within the Senate and among the many interest groups with a stake in the outcome." Furthermore, in the third paragraph of the article, Murray identified Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, as the bill's lead co-sponsor, a fact that undermines her suggestion that the victory belonged solely to Democrats and the loss solely to the Republicans. This was the second time in one week that Murray had characterized opposition to the fund as partisan, even though previous coverage of this issue by the Post has stated otherwise.

Asbestos, a material once commonly used in construction because of its strength and heat resistance, has been linked to an often fatal form of cancer and fatal lung diseases, prompting large lawsuits by workers exposed to asbestos who later experienced illness. One company, W.R. Grace & Co., was indicted a year ago for allegedly exposing the town of Libby, Montana, to asbestos through a mining operation there, then allegedly covering up the danger. According to a February 3 Post article, the asbestos bill would have removed "damage claims of workers and others injured by exposure to asbestos from the courts, sending them instead to a privately financed $140 billion trust fund for adjudication and payment."

The bipartisan character of opposition to the current asbestos legislation has been noted in previous coverage of the asbestos bill debate in the Post. A February 10 Post editorial praising the Senate for moving forward with the issue last week, noted that some Republicans opposed the bill as well as Democrats. Also, a February 7 Associated Press article published in the Post reported: "A coalition of companies and unions has begun a campaign against the measure, saying, among other things, that the fund would not support the number of claims made against it. Democrats and several Republican senators also worry that taxpayers might have to pay if claims drained the trust fund." A February 3 Post article reported that "some Republicans who voted for it [the bill] in committee said they would not support it on the floor without substantial changes," although their objections center on claims that those who do not deserve compensation will still receive it because the eligibility criteria to receive compensation are too broad and, also, that the bill will not stop all asbestos litigation.

From the February 15 Washington Post article, headlined "Senate Foes Block Proposed Trust Fund For Asbestos Victims":

In a cliffhanger procedural vote, the Senate derailed legislation to create a trust fund for asbestos victims, a victory for Democrats and their trial-lawyer allies who waged a relentless campaign to defeat a bill that took five years to negotiate

Supporters of the bill, including most Republicans and some Democrats, held out hope for a return to the legislation after it failed, in a 58 to 41 vote, to gain the support of 60 senators needed to overcome a challenge over its potential budgetary impact. "We believe there is overwhelming support for this bill," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who had switched his vote from a "yes" to a "no" to leave open the option of bringing the bill back to the floor, if and when a yes vote can be mustered.

After the vote, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee and a co-author of the bill, told reporters that the proposed fund is not dead and that he had counted the vote of one absent senator -- Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) -- for his side. Republicans also said that they might be able to flip the vote of one of the 11 GOP senators who sided with Democrats to defeat the legislation.

Posted In
Health Care
The Washington Post
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.