- WASHINGTON -- Eli Lilly and
Co. won what may be a short-lived victory Tuesday.
- The Senate narrowly upheld language in a homeland security
bill that could help shield the company from damages in pending and future
lawsuits for selling a mercury-based preservative put in childhood vaccines.
- In order to get enough votes to ensure final passage
of the bill, Republican congressional leaders and the White House had to
agree to revisit the issue in January.
- Lawmakers opposed to the provision said the parties had
agreed the liability protection would at least not extend to the 45 lawsuits
already filed against Lilly by parents who allege their children suffered
autism, a neurological disorder, from a mercury-based preservative used
in many childhood vaccines until about three years ago. Lilly developed
and sold the preservative, called thimerosal, for more than 40 years.
- A White House spokesman said he could not comment on
the specifics of the agreement but did say the White House would work with
the next Congress "to address these issues and some members' concerns."
- The protection was one of several items slipped into
the bill that didn't become widely known until after the House approved
the measure last week.
- Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., said he thought the vaccine protections
"had merit" but was bothered by the help for companies that reincorporated
- "I just thought on balance, this was not the right
thing to do," Bayh said.
- Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said he supported the provisions
because making substantial changes would have delayed passage of the bill.
He said he has no opinion on the merit of the liability protection.
- Defenders of the provision said it's needed to make sure
fear of lawsuits doesn't cause pharmaceutical companies to stop making
vaccines, particularly those needed to fight bioterrorism.
- No one, however, was claiming ownership of the provision.
- Lilly -- which is a major GOP campaign donor, has a large
lobbying presence in Washington, and connections to the White House that
include CEO Sidney Taurel's appointment to the White House Homeland Security
Advisory Council -- said it did not ask for the change.
- Senators pointed to House Republicans, who pointed to
the White House, which denied proposing it.
- Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., called on White House Budget
Director Mitch Daniels -- a former Lilly executive -- to explain how the
language got in the bill.
- Daniels' spokeswoman said his office "had absolutely
no involvement" on the issue.
- Lilly spokesman Ed Sagebiel said the company was pleased
with the language approved Tuesday.
- "We think this legislation will help protect manufacturers
from lawsuits that are either without merit or scientific evidence,"
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