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December 28, 2002

BILL FRIST: Lackey of Eli Lilly? Or of Rosalynn Carter? I've been trying to get to the bottom of this pseudo-scandal (there's an earlier post here, with links to still earlier ones) and have found, via the magic of Westlaw, a long Senate floor speech by Frist in favor of the liability limits. Follow the link to read it -- it's posted over at InstaPundit EXTRA! because it's just too damned long to post here. Frist, as you'll see, is quoting "Every Child By Two," the Rosalynn Carter - Betty Bumpers campaign for vaccination, in support of the language, and in debunking a New York Times article on thimerosal that misquoted important sources. (He quotes the sources, too, who say that the Times was woefully deficient in fact-checking.)

Also, any readers familiar with the history of this, please let me know if I'm right about the timeline here. I believe that Armey put the language in the bill originally (er, because he said so, on CNN) and that the bill passed the House, with that language in it, and then went to the Senate, where the actual question was over an attempt by Joe Lieberman to take the House language out.

Am I right about this? Because if I am, then what Bill Keller and Eleanor Clift are accusing Frist of -- putting the language in the bill -- is not only contradicted by Dick Armey's statement, but was also impossible because the Senate action was about removing language that was already there, not about putting the language in in the first place. I don't swear that I'm right about this, as the history is awfully complex, but that's how it looks.

But at the very least, claims that Frist was acting secretly in support of the language are contradicted by the speech -- on the Senate floor -- supporting the language. And claims that this was some sort of sleazy corporate bailout would seem to be contradicted by the words from the Rosalynn Carter - Betty Bumpers Campaign. Unless the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy has gotten really, really vast.

Here's a link to an oped by Carter and Bumpers denouncing what they call "Internet scare campaigns" about vaccines. And here is a link to a newsletter at the Carter / Bumpers campaign page that says the language originated in the House, and is intended to keep trial lawyers from end-running laws already in existence:

The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) was enacted by Congress as a no-fault alternative to the tort system for resolving claims resulting from adverse reactions to mandated childhood vaccines. Claimants have the option to file vaccine injury lawsuits against physicians who administer vaccines and vaccine manufacturers only after their claim is adjudicated under the VICP and the judgment is rejected by the claimants. Recent lawsuits have gone directly to the tort system by claiming that thimerosal was an additive to the vaccine and therefore not applicable to the VICP. If the Senate passes this bill, parents will be required to file thimerosal claims first through the VICP. The unfortunate consequence of this provision has been the inadvertent fueling of fears, by several Senators and the press, that vaccines cause autism.

Follow the link to read Frist's speech and I think you'll see that he's on the same page as the Carter-Bumpers Campaign. (The "several Senators" are opponents of the language, one of whom Frist quotes, and "the press" appears to refer to the New York Times' flawed account). Which I think makes this an even more pathetic -- if slightly more successful -- effort at pseudo-scandal than the pencil incident.

What penance will Bill Keller assign himself?

UPDATE: Talkleft emails a link to this story from the Washington Post dated December 20 that says Frist wrote the thimerosal provision. I'm confused, though, because the article doesn't mention Armey at all (again!) and the Tom Paine reward offer (re-weaseled to avoid crediting Dick Armey -- or paying the reward to me!) is still up, with no mention of Frist on the page. Nor is there any context about the purpose of the amendment, or who else supported it. But there must be a pony here somewhere, right?

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Nora Cannon emails in response to the Post story:

Yuck: "Frist wrote a provision, enacted into law, that restricted the ability of plaintiffs to sue the company for injuries resulting from Thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative used in vaccines against childhood diseases. The Lilly provision was quietly woven into the legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security."

Some technical truth to that as worded, but intentionally misleading. Frist wrote a free standing bill; here's a column he wrote on it: Link

Here is the summary from Thomas:

S.2053
Sponsor: Sen Frist, Bill(introduced 3/21/2002)
Latest Major Action: 3/21/2002 Referred to Senate committee.
Status: Read twice and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Title: A bill to amend the Public Health Service Act to improve immunization rates by increasing the distribution of vaccines and improving and clarifying the vaccine injury compensation program, and for other purposes. (search bill number here: http://thomas.loc.gov )

The particular provision is:

Section 2133(5) of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. 300aa-33(5)) is amended by adding at the end the following: `For purposes of the preceding sentence, an adulterant or contaminant shall not include any component or ingredient listed in a vaccine's product license application or product label.'.

And that, of course, addresses the concern pointed out by the Carter - Bumpers campaign above -- that trial lawyers were using the "adulterant" claim regarding thimerosal to end-run existing law.

All evidence seems to indicate that this is a bogus issue from top to bottom. TomPaine.Com should be ashamed for trying to make so much of it (not to mention for welshing on their prize award, which would have put me that much closer to a 350Z!) and Bill Keller and Eleanor Clift should be ashamed of being suckered this way.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Tom Dahlgren writes: "Call me paranoid but doesn't it seem that TomPaine.com, Bill Kellor and Eleanor Clift are all working from the same memo? Maybe a DNC memo? This whole non-event-event sure seems very Blumethal-esque." Hmm. Maybe someone will investigate that.

I emailed Bill Keller about this yesterday, but I haven't heard back. It is the weekend, though, a time when only unpaid bloggers answer their email.