Trial lawyers' president Product liability veto: Clinton payoff of political debt scored by Rockefeller, Lieberman.

March 22, 1996

WHO SAID THIS? "I think the president has served the nation in a very ill fashion by saying he's going to veto a very balanced product liability bill. . . Twice when he was governor [of Arkansas] President Clinton voted for uniform standards of product liability. In those days he was a professor of law. I think these days he's become a professor of rather raw politics."

Answer: Sen. Jay Rockefeller, Democrat of West Virginia, with an 85 percent support record for administration proposals in 1995.

WHO SAID THIS? "He [Clinton] is dead wrong about this bill. This is a moderate, thoughtful bill which reflects years of effort and many compromises."

Answer: Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, with 81 percent support record for administration proposals in 1995.

These senators may be disappointed but can hardly be surprised by this latest Clinton payoff to the trial lawyers his chief financial backers in the 1992 campaign and today. Their constituency is workers damaged on the job and consumers damaged by faulty products or services. They tend Democratic, just as their adversaries in big business, the medical profession or the insurance industry lean Republican.

In such a situation, those few lawmakers who rise above partisanship play a crucial role. Democrats in this case, they perceive that their country is awash in litigation much of it legitimate, some of it frivolous that stifles commerce in fear and lowers national productivity. And they are willing to do the hard work to correct a lamentable situation.

Unfortunately, President Clinton is not one of those Democrats. He has cast his lot with the trial lawyers and their allies, thus blocking the most promising chance for litigation reform the nation's capital has seen in years.

Just as unfortunately, Mr. Clinton now has the votes of Maryland's two Democratic senators. Paul S. Sarbanes has been with the trial lawyers all the way. Barbara A. Mikulski was on the other side last Spring, but was one of four Democrats who switched this week.

As the election year unfolds, political pressures will mount. It will require extraordinary efforts by lawmakers adhering to the Rockefeller-Lieberman example if the national interest is to be protected.

Pub Date: 3/22/96

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