Bush Pushes Legislation to Limit 'Frivolous Lawsuits'

By MARIA NEWMAN

New York Times

December 16,2004

President Bush said today he would send proposed legislation to Congress to limit "frivolous lawsuits" as a way to help the economy grow.

Mr. Bush, speaking at a two-day White House-sponsored economic summit, said the legislation would curb class-action litigation, lawsuits seeking damages for exposure to asbestos and medical malpractice suits.

"There's much more to a comprehensive economic expansion program than just legal reform, but a cornerstone of any good program is legal reform," the president said.

At the White House conference, which is designed to telescope the president's economic agenda for his second term, experts and economists who mostly agree with the president were on hand to discuss legal reform as well as other administration priorities such as the privatization of Social Security and the overhauling of the tax code.

Vice President Dick Cheney, who opened the conference, said "younger people are understandably concerned" about the future of Social Security.

As he often did during the presidential campaign, Mr. Bush today blamed frivolous lawsuits for dragging down the economy, getting in the way of job creation and the expansion of many businesses.

"The cost of frivolous lawsuits in some cases make it prohibitively expensive for a small business to stay in business or for a doctor to practice medicine, in which case it means the health care costs of a job provider or job creator are escalating," he said.

He also said the high costs of lawsuits here have a ripple effect in America's ability to trade with Europe.

"The cost of litigation in America makes it more difficult for us to compete with nations in Europe, for example.

"We expect the House and Senate to pass meaningful liability reform," he said. This summer, a White House-backed bill that would restrict class-action lawsuits failed after bickering by members of both parties and a threat of a Democratic filibuster. The so-called Class Action Fairness Act of 2004 had the backing of more than 60 senators -- more than enough to guarantee passage. But that backing disintegrated amid a bitter election-year dispute between Democrats, who wanted to attach unrelated provisions to it, and the Republican leadership, which rejected the Democrats' entreaties.

The powerful trial lawyers' lobby, which tends to back Democrats, has opposed the measure, saying that the bill would strip working people of their right to seek legal redress. Business groups and Republicans backers of the bill say that frivolous lawsuits add unnecessary costs to businesses.

Earlier today, the president talked about strengthening the dollar abroad in remarks he made at the White House with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy.

Mr. Bush told reporters gathered at the Oval Office that he hoped to "send a signal" to financial markets that he is serious about a strong dollar by tackling short- and long-term budget deficits.

"The policy of my government is a strong dollar policy," the president said. "We believe that the markets should make the decision about the relationship between the dollar and the euro."

"Therefore, to the extent that the federal government is involved with making the conditions set so a strong dollar will emerge, we'll do everything we can in the upcoming legislative session to send a signal to the markets that we'll deal with our deficits, which hopefully will cause people to want to buy dollars," he said.