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Jumpstart our Business Strength (Jobs) Act

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

JUMPSTART OUR BUSINESS STRENGTH (JOBS) ACT

Mr. INHOFE. Madam President, I applaud the Senator from Wyoming for recognizing what we need to do for jobs in this country. That is the very thing that turns this economy around.

I say to my good friend from Connecticut that it was not a Republican idea; it was a Democratic idea when John Kennedy said the way to increase revenues is to reduce marginal tax rates. That works. That is what is happening now. With this President having inherited a recession which started back in March of 2000, we are now pulling out of it, and we are going to see a dramatic improvement.

I have been listening to this talk on job loss and sending jobs overseas. I know my colleagues, Senators HATCH and BOND have spoken about the impact of asbestos litigation on our economy and the need to pass S. 1125 this year.

I want to reiterate the enormous loss of jobs our country will suffer and the impact on economic growth if something is not done to resolve this problem.

I also want to note a press release from the EPA that says on February 25, several members of Topor Contracting, a demolition and asbestos abatement business in Buffalo, NY, along with the owner of Payco, a pre-demolition asbestos firm in New York, pled guilty to State charges after their firms were involved in the demolition of two buildings in Buffalo, NY. They were charged with falsely stating that asbestos had been removed from the work area.

If asbestos is not removed before demolition begins, those working in the area are susceptible to asbestos exposure. We know, when inhaled, asbestos can cause such fatal illnesses as lung cancer and mesothelioma.

In another, related civil case, the owners of Topor and Payco were permanently barred from conducting asbestos abatement work in New York State.

The New York Area Office of EPA's Criminal Investigation Division, the State of New York and the FBI are appropriately investigating this case.

This example shows that asbestos can be controlled appropriately under reasonable law and legal procedures-making excessive lawsuits all the more outrageous.

The U.S. Supreme Court has called asbestos litigation an "elephantine mass . . . that defies customary judicial administration and calls for national legislation."

Senior U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein has cautioned:

If the acceleration of asbestos lawsuits continues unaddressed, it is not impossible that every company with even a remote connection to asbestos may be driven into bankruptcy.

Many newspapers and publications have also commented on this crisis and its affects.

The Hartford Courant has said:

Congress must not let this opportunity pass. The alternative is more chaos, in which additional companies are driven into bankruptcy, thousands of workers lose their jobs and those who suffer from asbestos-related illnesses often wait many years for payments.

Georgia Pacific is a company headquartered in Atlanta, and is one of the world's leading manufacturers of tissue, packaging, paper, building products, pulp, and related chemicals. It sells more than $23 billion in products annually and employs about 61,000 people at 400 locations in North America and Europe. It operates three facilities in Oklahoma, including a building products distribution center in Tulsa and a tissue and a paper production plant in Muskogee. It employs more than 1,600 people in Oklahoma. Its operations generate about $76 million in taxable wages each year in Oklahoma alone.

Before 1977, the company manufactured gypsum products, which contained asbestos fibers. Since that year, it has not used asbestos in any of its products.

Over time, the company as a whole has paid about $629 million to settle over 313,000 asbestos claims. A large portion of these payouts goes to attorneys and to many who aren't actually sick. In fact, about 60 percent of its asbestos claims have been paid to lawyers. Another 20 percent has been paid to people who were not sick. The remaining 20 percent was actually paid to sick people. At the end of 2003, it had over 64,000 pending claims nationally and its payments extended into 2013.

Just yesterday I met with another nationwide company, McDermott International, whose power generation division, Babcock and Wilcox has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. In the end, the company and its insurers will pay over $1.6 billion to claimants and lawyers.

Other companies filing for bankruptcy include Weyerhauser-a national paper product manufacturing company with facilities in Oklahoma, Bethlehem Steel, Harbison Walker, North American Refractories, Owens Corning, W.R. Grace & Co., U.S. Gypsum Co., Kaiser Aluminum, and Halliburton's DII Industries unit.

Overall, asbestos litigation has already forced at least 70 companies into bankruptcy-causing the loss of many jobs. According to a report by Joseph Stiglitz in 2002, as many as 60,000 jobs have been lost due to asbestos-related bankruptcies. Employees of these bankrupt companies have seen their 401k's drop by an average of 25 percent.

According to a 2002 report from the RAND Institute for Civil Justice-a bipartisan group-in 1982, litigation cost American businesses $1 billion; in 2000, the total cost of litigation rose to $54 billion; in 2002, litigation costs jumped to over $70 billion.

Forty-seven States-Hawaii, Rhode Island and North Dakota are the only States that do not have a facility affected by asbestos bankruptcy-have at least one facility affected by asbestos bankruptcy.

Workers displaced by asbestos bankruptcies have lost $25,000 to $50,000 in wages.

For every 10 jobs lost in asbestos bankruptcy, a community will lose as many as eight additional jobs. If we do not enact legislation this year, economic growth could be reduced by $2.4 billion per year which could prevent 800,000 jobs from being created and a loss of $64 billion in economic growth over a 27-year period. It could cost businesses up to $210 billion to respond to 500,000 to 2.4 million asbestos claims.

This legislation will guarantee a fair and generous compensation for victims-those are the ones who are really hurt-and will replace the unpredictable court costs with certainty for victims and businesses. It will provide contingent money if the fund runs short or provide money upfront to get the fund running. It protects the claims if the fund runs dry, and it uses no taxpayers' money.

I am not optimistic we will get it passed. There will have to be a wake-up call. Look at what happened a week or so ago. We had the Health for Mothers and Babies Access to Care Act. It was supposed to help get the money to the mothers and babies who need it so much. Trial lawyers won that in the Senate. They got amendments in there that totally destroyed what we were trying to do.

The gun liability bill last week. Standing right next to me was the Senator from Idaho, Senator LARRY CRAIG, who has been a hero in this area trying to do something to protect the second amendment rights and to have some type of legislation that would have an effect on reducing the magnitude of lawsuits against gun manufacturers or distributors and in many other areas. With the amendments the trial lawyers were able to get in to protect trial lawyers, it ended up being killed by the very people who introduced it.

I am hoping there has been a wake-up call and this will not happen in the case of S. 1125 and we will be able to get this thing passed this year. Every month that goes by, every week that goes by, there are more and more lawsuits. Keep in mind, 60 percent of the money has gone to lawyers and 20 percent has gone to people who have not sustained any types of injuries themselves.

With that, I encourage my colleagues to pass S. 1125 as soon as possible.

I yield the floor.

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