"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Onerous Regulation Is Suffocating American Business! (Part IV) 

TomPaine.com has a thoughtful bit of commentary from Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration, about the frightening prospect of "tort reform" paired with a criminally lax regulatory regime:
The White House says the Food and Drug administration is doing a "spectacular" job. Really? The FDA didn’t respond to warning signs that block-buster painkillers like Celebrex and Vioxx increased the risk of heart attacks. Worse yet, its own drug-safety officer says the agency suppressed his research showing the apparent dangers of Vioxx. Belatedly, the FDA is now looking into the potential risks of Naproxin, an ingredient in many over-the-counter pain relievers. The FDA also failed to warn the public that antidepressants increase the risk of suicide among children who take them.

"Spectacular?" I don’t think so. In fact, one might conclude that the Food and Drug Administration is failing in its core mission to protect consumers from harm. It’s a toothless tiger.

Meanwhile, new legislation is winding its way through Congress that would prevent people who are hurt by drugs approved by the FDA from winning large damage awards against companies that made them. FDA approval would shield drug makers from having to pay anything more than $250,000 even when it’s proven that they negligently caused someone more than $250,000 of harm. Congressional sponsors understand this cap on damages will end lawsuits against drug companies because personal-injury lawyers won’t want to take on the risks and costs of such cases. If this bill passes, companies like Pfizer and Merck—now facing a flood of lawsuits because of Celebrex and Vioxx—won’t have to worry.

So we’ve got an FDA that’s not protecting consumers from harm, and pending legislation that makes it almost impossible for people who are hurt by drugs approved by the FDA to sue for damages. The question must be asked: How is the public going to be protected if the FDA remains weak and if private lawsuits are cut off?

Reich goes on to argue that the problem is much larger than just the FDA - that it affects the whole federal regulatory regime, increasingly compromised by the insidious phenomenon of agency capture - and that, more and more, consumers and workers must rely on the civil justice system for protection and compensation. In the interest of "protecting" big business from the trumped-up crisis of "frivolous litigation," however, the Junta is working hard to deny injured parties access to the courts. Should they succeed, Americans will find that they have no good options left - abandoned by the regulatory agencies that were supposed to prevent harmful conduct, and denied the right to make themselves whole by means of legal process when harmed. Chimpy's flying monkeys strike again, and again the most defenseless Americans are the ones made to pay.




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