FAIRNESS IN ASBESTOS INJURY RESOLUTION ACT OF 2005
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Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I have refrained from speaking on this bill up until now because, quite frankly, my colleague, our leader, Senator Durbin, and our ranking Member of the Committee on the Budget and others have spoken with eloquence and precision, I believe, about this point of order.
I have a number of amendments if this point of order fails. But before the time closes on this vote, I did want to ask the indulgence of my colleagues to make a few very brief points.
No. 1, this is a Herculean attempt by one of my best friends in the Senate--one of my best friends, period, Senator Specter--to try to deal with the real problem. The real problem is that there are a lot of people out there suffering from the effects of asbestos. There are not a lot of companies out there with the money to pay all of these claims. There is the concern that some of the very companies we have to go to, to recover from, may very well declare bankruptcy. So I understand the motivation. It is a decent, honorable motivation.
But the bottom line is, what we are asking an awful lot of people to do is to give up a right in tort that has existed in common law for hundreds and hundreds of years prior to our Nation's history but throughout our Nation's history. The deal was it would be in return for a guarantee. They would take less, they would get in line, people who had claims they could pursue now would not be able to pursue them immediately until the medical effects occurred. All kinds of limitations were prepared to be put on individuals' rights and claims in return for a deal.
What was the deal? The deal was that they--the victim--having met the criteria of the bill, would be guaranteed a payment and guaranteed a payment within a time certain and that everyone would know the rules.
When I was a young Senator my first year here, I was No. 100 in seniority. I sat in the back corner. Russell Long was in the Senate with the finance bill. Senator Schweiker of Pennsylvania and Senator Case from New Jersey and I worked out an agreement related to a compact relating to the Delaware River area. I walked up to the Senator from Louisiana, Mr. Long, and I said: Senator, I hope you can support this. We have worked this out. He said: Yes, I will be with you. I will be with you.
I had a staffer who had a lot more experience than I. I had only been here months, maybe a year. This staffer worked here before and was seasoned and said: By the way, ask for a rollcall vote. I asked for a rollcall vote. And in the process, when the vote came, it got to Long and Long voted ``no.'' I said: He just told me ``yes.''
Well, he told me, yes, he would vote for it, if it were not a rollcall vote. I didn't know he said that, but he meant that only if it was a voice vote he would vote for it--meaning he could drop it in conference. I walked up to him and I said: Senator, we had a deal. And I was referring to my colleagues from Pennsylvania and New Jersey and Delaware. And he put his arm around me, as only he could do, he pulled me in close like he used to do to everyone:
Joe, as my Uncle Earl used to say: I ain't for no deal I ain't in on.
Guess what. The victims are not in on this bill. They are not in on this bill. Because if my colleagues are right--and I believe they are--about how short this fund is going to come and how quickly it is going to reach that point, and how underfunded right from the very beginning this is likely to be, guess what happens. At some point, the administrator of this whole outfit can look down the road and say: By the way, we are going to run out of money, and he can recommend a couple of things. He can recommend that the criteria to qualify change. He can recommend that the amount of money recovered change or he can recommend the fund sunset and people go back, in part, to what they had before.
What would happen if I had said to the business community: There is one other thing he could do. He could go back and change the contributions and what category each of the businesses fall in. He has the discretion to do that. He can go to a company that had more money than another company, even though not as much responsibility, and kick them up into a higher category. I wonder how many of my friends would be saying: Wait, wait, wait a minute. That is not fair. Businesses have to plan. Businesses have to have certainty. You have to make sure that what you tell them in here is going to happen.
Guess what, folks. That is what we are doing to the victim. That is what we are doing to you, the person who gave up your right that only the Congress can take away from you. Give up your right.
There is much more to say. I hope I will not have to say it because I hope this point of order is sustained.
But if it is not, there are a number of amendments I have.
Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, I yield the Senator 2 additional minutes.
Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I thank the Senator very much.
The bottom line is, I do not, for a moment--and, again, because he is on the floor and he is my friend--I do not question the motivation, the intention, the desire, the intensity with which my friend from Pennsylvania feels about this issue. I believe he believes if this passes we are going to be doing the victims of asbestosis--and all other aspects of the exposure to asbestos--we are going to be doing them more good than harm.
But I disagree. If the money were here, if the money were guaranteed, under no circumstances could it fall short, then, in fact, that would be the case. But the last piece I will mention here is, I heard my good friend from California talk about Goldman Sachs has a list. Isn't this amazing? We are about to vote on a bill that by some measure will cost at least $140 billion to somebody--I think a lot more--and there is a list that Goldman Sachs has. And we don't? I ain't for no deal I ain't in on. I ain't in on this deal. I am not for it. I am not for it.
I thank the Chair and thank my colleague.