Asbestos trust fund bill doomed by senate

By Steve Gonzalez | Feb 14, 2006

The U.S. Senate voted late Tuesday night 58-41 to send a bill that would create a $140 billion asbestos trust fund back to the Judiciary Committee, ostensibly ending any hope that such a fund will be created.

Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada lodged the procedural objection to the bill, claiming the trust fund violated a congressional limit on spending and would force taxpayers to pick up the tab.

Ensign said he felt "uncomfortable" siding with trial lawyers, but said the fund may prove inadequate and require a federal bailout.

The legislation would have removed asbestos injury claims from years of court litigation and pay them from a $140 billion fund financed by asbestos companies and their insurance companies.

The sponsors of the legislation, Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter, chairman of the Judiciary Committee and Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, the ranking member, needed 60 senators to win the procedural vote. They had said their bill would die if they could not gain the support.

After the vote, however, both senators hang on to hope noting that Democrat Daniel Inouye of Hawaii was unable to vote because he returned home to be with his sick wife.

Supporters for the trust fund claim asbestos lawsuits have forced 77 companies into bankruptcy and claim there are around 600,000 suits currently pending in the courts.

Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, is now expected to introduce a bill to curb asbestos claims by allowing people to file only if they meet certain medical criteria.

Monday the Congressional Budget Office said that the fund would not require federal money however senators still fear it would have increased the federal budget deficit.

They had 59 before Republican Leader bill Frist switched his vote at the last minute to no in a procedural move that allows him to bring it up again.

Supporters of the bill vowed not to let the bill die.

"As John Paul Jones said, we have just begun to fight," Specter said.

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