Thursday, February 09, 2006

Hastert and Frist – Criminals Arm in Arm

Senator Bill Frist, darling of the pharmaceutical lobbyists and majority leader of the Senate, and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, “engineered a backroom legislative maneuver to protect pharmaceutical companies from lawsuits, say witnesses to the pre-Christmas power play.

It’s not that secret—in this blog December 20, 2005, I reported,

Frist is sleazing into this appropriations bill an item that gives drug makers freedom from liability while they make billions of dollars on their products:

Companies making vaccines to protect against biological agents or pandemic viruses would be shielded from lawsuits, even if they are negligent or reckless, under a provision inserted into a military spending bill by Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the majority leader…

The potential fallout is as follows:

“The legislation, called the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act, allows the secretary of Health and Human Services to declare a public health emergency, which then provides immunity for companies that develop vaccines and other "countermeasures."

Beyond the issue of vaccine liability protection, some say going around the longstanding practice of bipartisan House-Senate conference committees' working out compromises on legislation is a dangerous power grab by Republican congressional leaders that subverts democracy…

"It is a travesty of the legislative process," said Thomas Mann, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

"It vests enormous power in the hands of congressional leaders and private interests, minimizes transparency and denies legitimate opportunities for all interested parties, in Congress and outside, to weigh in on important policy questions."

…Frist has long advocated liability protection for vaccine makers, and it was widely reported that he would attempt to attach the legislation to the Defense Appropriations bill because it is considered must-pass legislation.” 2/09/06

I don’t like to sit in judgment of others who stand to gain from doing favors, since I’m not sure what my refusal threshold would be—everyone’s got a price. I like to think that as a defender of the public trust, who has taken an oath of office, that I would be above any kind of influence other than my conscience, no matter what. But I have been accused of being a dreamer.

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