House Passes Class Action Reform
On June 12, by a vote of 253 to 170, the House easily passed a bill known as the Class Action Fairness Act (H.R. 1115). The tort reform bill, generally supported by Republicans and opposed by Democrats, calls for, among other things, reasonable limits on attorneys fees in class action lawsuits.
The bill, originally introduced on March 6, was drawn up in an attempt to do away with some of the much-ridiculed class action lawsuits that have infected the United States legal system in recent years. The lawsuits have compromised the integrity of the nations civil justice system and have put a drain on the economy that will long last. In the past 10 years, state court class action filings nationwide have increased over 1,000%.
Class actions were originally created to efficiently address a large number of similar claims by people suffering small harms. Today they are more often used to efficiently transfer large fees to a small number of trial lawyers doing great harm.
A nearly identical bill was passed in the House two years ago but failed in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
Almost all Republicans supported the bill, while Democrats were in thrall to some of their partys most ardent financial supporters-the lawyers who collect millions and millions of dollars each year in attorneys fees, often for cases in which plaintiffs get little or nothing. One classic example is a recent settlement with Blockbuster Video over late fees that produced $9.25 million in lawyer fees but resulted in dollar coupons for the consumers represented.
“Clearly, the trial lawyers are winners, but the losers in this race are the victims who often gain little or nothing through the settlement, yet are bound by it in perpetuity,” Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R.-Wis.) said.
Rep. John Conyers (D.-Mich.) answered Sensenbrenner with the oft-heard argument that trial lawyers also help the rich: “I notice that Enron, Worldcom and Adelphia all have pretty good trial lawyers. These are all Republican supporters. Why cannot people with class action suits have trial lawyers [who] are doing a good job get compensated for it?”
Conyers went on to say that the bill “represents a major rewrite of the class action rules that would bar most forms of state class actions and massively tilt the playing field in favor of corporate defendants.”
Countered Sensenbrenner, “I would be happy to invite [you] to my district to explain to my constituents why giving a consumer a coupon for 75 cents off a product that was manufactured by the company that injured that consumer, while giving a lawyer hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars worth of legal fees, puts consumers in charge rather than lawyers.”
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R.-Va.) further backed the conservative argument, citing a lawsuit with Chase Manhattan Bank in which the attorneys collected $4 million while the plaintiffs got 33 cents worth of compensation. “There is a little catch though,” said Goodlatte, “because you had to use a 34-cent stamp in order to send in the acceptance to get the 33 cents. That does not sound like a good deal for me.”
A “yes” vote was a vote in favor of the Class Action Fairness Act, to try to cut down on predatory practices by trial lawyers. A “no” vote was a vote against the bill.
REPUBLICANS FOR (221): Aderholt, Akin, Bachus, Baker, Ballenger, Barrett (SC), Bartlett (MD), Barton (TX), Bass, Beauprez, Bereuter, Biggert, Bilirakis, Bishop (UT), Blackburn, Blunt, Boehlert, Boehner, Bonilla, Bonner, Bono, Boozman, Bradley (NH), Brady (TX), Brown (SC), Brown-Waite, V., Burgess, Burns, Burr, Burton (IN), Buyer, Calvert, Camp, Cannon, Cantor, Capito, Carter, Castle, Chabot, Chocola, Coble, Cole, Collins, Cox, Crane, Crenshaw, Culberson, Cunningham, Davis, Jo Ann, Davis, Tom, Deal (GA), DeLay, DeMint, Diaz-Balart, L., Diaz-Balart, M., Dreier, Duncan, Dunn, Ehlers, Emerson, Everett, Feeney, Ferguson, Flake, Fletcher, Foley, Forbes, Fossella, Franks (AZ), Frelinghuysen, , Gallegly, Garrett (NJ), Gerlach, Gibbons, Gilchrest, Gillmor, Gingrey, Goode, Goodlatte, Goss, Granger, Graves, Green (WI), Greenwood, Gutknecht, Harris, Hart, Hastings (WA), Hayes, Hayworth, Hefley, Hensarling, Herger, Hobson, Hoekstra, Hostettler, Houghton, Hulshof, Hunter, Hyde, Isakson, Issa, Istook, Janklow, Jenkins, Johnson, Sam, Johnson (IL), Jones (NC), KellerKelly, Kennedy (MN), King (IA), Kingston, Kirk, Kline, Knollenberg, Kolbe, LaHood, Latham, LaTourette, Leach, Lewis (CA), Lewis (KY), Linder, LoBiondo, Lucas (OK), Manzullo, McCotter, McCrery, McInnis, McKeon, Mica, Miller, Gary, Miller (FL), Miller (MI), Moran (KS), Murphy, Musgrave, Myrick, Nethercutt, Neugebauer, Ney, Northup, Norwood, Nunes, Nussle, Osborne, Ose, Otter, Oxley, Paul, Pearce, Pence, Peterson (PA), Petri, Pickering, Pitts, Platts, Pombo, Porter, Portman, Pryce (OH), Putnam, Quinn, Radanovich, Ramstad, Regula, Rehberg, Renzi, Reynolds, Rogers (AL), Rogers (KY), Rogers (MI), Rohrabacher, Ros-Lehtinen, Royce, Ryan (WI), Ryun (KS), Saxton, Schrock, Sensenbrenner, Sessions, Shadegg, Shaw, Shays, Sherwood, Shimkus, Shuster, Simmons, Simpson, Smith (MI), Smith (NJ), Smith (TX), Souder, Stearns, Sullivan, Sweeney, Tancredo, Tauzin, Taylor (NC), Terry, Thomas, Thornberry, Tiberi, Toomey, Turner (OH), Upton, Vitter, Walden (OR), Walsh, Wamp, Weldon (FL), Weldon (PA), Weller, Whitfield, Wicker, Wilson (NM), Wilson (SC), Wolf, Young (AK), Young (FL)
DEMOCRATS FOR (32): Alexander, Boucher, Boyd, Case, Cooper, Cramer, Davis (TN), Dooley (CA), Doyle, Emanuel, Ford, Gordon, Hall, Harman, Hill, Holden, John, Larsen (WA), Larson (CT), Lucas (KY), Majette, Matheson, McCarthy (NY), Michaud, Moore, Moran (VA), Peterson (MN), Scott (GA), Stenholm, Tanner, Taylor (MS), Turner (TX)
REPUBLICANS AGAINST (3): Doolittle, English, King (NY)
DEMOCRATS AGAINST (166): Abercrombie, Allen, Andrews, Baca, Baird, Baldwin, Ballance, Becerra, Bell, Berkley, Berman, Berry, Bishop (GA), Bishop (NY), Blumenauer, Boswell, Brady (PA), Brown, Corrine, Brown (OH), Capps, Capuano, Cardin, Cardoza, Carson (IN), Carson (OK), Clay, Clyburn, Conyers, Costello, Crowley, Cummings, Davis (AL), Davis (CA), Davis (FL), Davis (IL), DeFazio, DeGette, Delahunt, DeLauro, Deutsch, Dicks, Dingell, Doggett, Engel, Etheridge, Evans, Farr, Fattah, Filner, Frank (MA), Frost, Gonzalez, Green (TX), Grijalva, Gutierrez, Hastings (FL), Hinchey, Hinojosa, Hoeffel, Holt, Honda, Hooley (OR), Hoyer, Inslee, Israel, Jackson (IL), Jackson-Lee (TX), Jefferson, Johnson, E. B., Jones (OH), Kanjorski, Kaptur, Kennedy (RI), Kildee, Kilpatrick, Kind, Kleczka, Kucinich, Lampson, Langevin, Lantos, Lee, Levin, Lewis (GA), Lipinski, Lofgren, Lowey, Lynch, Maloney, Markey, Marshall, Matsui, McCarthy (MO), McCollum, McGovern, McIntyre, McNulty, Meehan, Meek (FL), Meeks (NY), Menendez, Millender-McDonald, Miller, George, Miller (NC), Mollohan, Murtha, Nadler, Napolitano, Neal (MA), Oberstar, Obey, Olver, Ortiz, Owens, Pallone, Pascrell, Pastor, Payne, Pelosi, Pomeroy, Price (NC), Rahall, Rangel, Reyes, Rodriguez, Ross, Rothman, Roybal-Allard, Ruppersberger, Rush, Ryan (OH), Sabo, Sanchez, Linda, Sanchez, Loretta, Sandlin, Schakowsky, Schiff, Scott (VA), Serrano, Sherman, Skelton, Slaughter, Snyder, Solis, Spratt, Stark, Strickland, Stupak, Tauscher, Thompson (CA), Thompson (MS), Tierney, Towns, Udall (CO), Udall (NM), Van Hollen, Velazquez, Visclosky, Waters, Watt, Waxman, Weiner, Wexler, Woolsey, Wu, Wynn
INDEPENDENT AGAINST (1): Sanders
REPUBLICANS (4): Cubin, Johnson (CT), McHugh, Tiahrt
DEMOCRATS (7): Ackerman, Edwards, Eshoo, Gephardt, McDermott, Smith (WA), Watson
Senate Votes to Fund Foreign Abortions Nix Reagan Policy
On July 9, by a vote of 43 to 53, the Senate rejected a motion to table (kill) an amendment by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D.-Calif.) to the Foreign Relations Authorization Act (S. 925) that would repeal former President Ronald Reagans “Mexico City” Policy. That policy, first announced at a United Nations conference in Mexico City in 1984, prohibited funding foreign organizations that practice or fund abortions abroad, or that agitate to legalize abortion in foreign countries.
Boxers amendment passed by a voice vote after the tabling motion failed.
Reagans policy stood until 1993, when Bill Clinton lifted it immediately upon his election to office. President George W. Bush reinstated the policy in 2001, but now, liberals like Boxer are once again trying to force Americans to pay to promote abortions in foreign countries.
“Because of the politics in this country,” said Boxer, “we have an unfortunate worldwide policy that says private, nonprofit organizations helping the poorest of the poor people-mostly women-cannot use their own money to advocate changes in the abortion laws of their own country.”
Boxer went on to label the policy an unconstitutional “domestic gag rule,” claiming that it prevents U.S. tax-supported organizations from providing abortion counseling and referral services.
In other words, Boxer did not want to allow American taxpayers through their congressmen to say in where their money goes.
Sen. Dick Lugar (R.-Ind.), on the other hand, stated that the reason for the Mexico City policy is “the conviction that the U.S. taxpayer funds should not be used to pay for abortions or for the advocacy, for those who actively promote abortions as a means of family planning.” He argued that this position was perfectly reasonable, and added that “the President has advised that any legislation that seeks to override the Mexico City language will be vetoed.”
A “yes” vote was a vote to table (kill) the Boxer amendment to fund international abortion-related agencies, and thus was a vote to continue President Reagans “Mexico City Policy.” A “no” vote on tabling was, in effect, a vote in favor of the amendment to force U.S. taxpayers to fund pro-abortion agitators and abortionists in foreign countries.
REPUBLICANS FOR (42): Alexander, Allard, Allen, Bennett, Bond, Brownback, Bunning, Burns, Chambliss, Cochran, Coleman, Cornyn, Craig, Crapo, DeWine, Dole, Domenici, Ensign, Enzi, Fitzgerald, Frist, Graham (S.C.), Grassley, Gregg, Hagel, Hatch, Hutchison, Inhofe, Kyl, Lott, Lugar, McCain, McConnell, Nickles, Roberts, Santorum, Sessions, Shelby, Sununu, Talent, Thomas, and Voinovich.
DEMOCRATS FOR (1): Breaux.
REPUBLICANS AGAINST (9): Campbell, Chafee, Collins, Murkowski, Smith, Snowe, Specter, Stevens, and Warner.
DEMOCRATS AGAINST (43): Akaka, Baucus, Bayh, Biden, Bingaman, Boxer, Byrd, Cantwell, Carper, Clinton, Conrad, Corzine, Daschle, Dayton, Dodd, Dorgan, Durbin, Feingold, Feinstein, Harkin, Hollings, Inouye, Johnson, Kennedy, Kohl, Landrieu, Lautenberg, Leahy, Levin, Lieberman, Lincoln, Mikulski, Murray, Nelson (Fla.), Nelson (Neb.), Pryor, Reed (R.I.), Reid (Nev.), Rockefeller, Sarbanes, Schumer, Stabenow, and Wyden.
INDEPENDENT AGAINST (1): Jeffords.
NOT VOTING (4): Edwards, Graham (Fla.), Kerry, and Miller.
Nickles, Inhofe Alone in Opposing Welfare Program
On June 5, by a vote of 94 to 2, the Senate easily passed an amendment to the Tax Relief, Simplification, and Equity Act of 2003 (HR 1308) that gives away money in the form of a so-called “child tax credit” to millions of U.S. families that do not pay income taxes.
The agreement ensures that 6.5 million low-income families who earn between $10,500 and $26,625 will receive the so-called tax credit, even though it will not be a credit against their taxes owed. Such families will simply receive checks from the government, courtesy of taxpayers.
Many conservatives around the country found the full-scale abandonment of principle by nearly every conservative in the Senate extremely disheartening, especially since the amendment also includes a tax hike in order to offset costs, something President Bush previously said he would not agree to unless he was dead. Nonetheless, the White House has signaled that it supports the Senate bill.
So much political pressure was applied to pass this amendment that Oklahoma Republican Senators Don Nickles and James Inhofe were the only two conservatives to oppose it.
Liberal Sen. Olympia Snowe (R.-Maine) rejected the argument that many of these low-income families do not pay taxes, and therefore have no business collecting tax credits.
“Now, I heard here that working families dont shoulder the burden in the Federal Tax Code, but that isnt true,” Snowe said. “They do pay taxes. They pay payroll taxes. In fact, payroll taxes have become an inordinate burden on working families.”
However, it was odd to hear calls from Snowe and other liberals to cut Social Security taxes when they are the ones who have strongly opposed attempts to use up the so-called Social Security surplus. Also, low-income families already receive the so-called “earned income tax credit” (EITC) to offset their payroll taxes.
Nickles was the only senator to speak out against the amendment.
“We already have an unearned income tax credit,” he said, referring to the EITC, which he called “one of the most plagued, inaccurate programs we have in the federal government. Its error rate is in the 20-some-odd percent range. There is a lot of fraud. People claim children they dont have so they can get a bigger refund.
Nickles argued strongly against the idea of “refunding” money to people “far in excess of [their] payroll and income taxes.”
A “yes” vote was a vote to turn the child tax credit into a welfare program by giving it in cash to people who do not pay income taxes. A “no” vote was a vote against the amendment.
REPUBLICANS FOR (47): Alexander, Allard, Allen, Bennett, Bond, Brownback, Bunning, Burns, Campbell, Chafee Chambliss, Cochran, Coleman, Collins, Cornyn, Craig, Crapo, DeWine, Dole, Domenici, Enzi, Fitzgerald, Frist, Graham (S.C.), Grassley, Gregg, Hagel, Hutchison, Kyl, Lott, Lugar, McCain, McConnell, Roberts, Santorum, Sessions, Shelby, Smith, Snowe, Specter, Stevens, Sunun, Talent, Thomas, Voinovich and Warner.
DEMOCRATS FOR (46): Akaka, Baucus, Bayh, Biden, Bingaman, Boxer, Breaux, Byrd, Cantwell, Carper, Clinton, Conrad, Corzine, Daschle, Dayton, Dodd, Dorgan, Durbin, Edwards, Feingold, Feinstein, Harkin, Hollings, Johnson, Kennedy, Kerry, Kohl, Landrieu, Lautenberg, Leahy, Levin, Lieberman, Lincoln, Mikulski, Miller, Murray, Nelson (Fla.), Nelson (Neb.), Pryor, Reed (R.I.), Reid (Nev.), Rockefeller, Sarbanes, Schumer, Stabenow, and Wyden.
INDEPENDENT FOR (1): Jeffords.
REPUBLICANS AGAINST (2): Inhofe and Nickles
NOT VOTING (4): Ensign, Graham (Fla.), Inouye, and Murkowski.