The payouts are a key issue to be decided in Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch’s proposal to take asbestos victims’ claims out of the courts and pay them from a fund paid into by industry and insurers.
But he said a Democratic proposal for awards to asbestos victims was so generous it would “bankrupt” the proposed fund, and led Republicans in voting it down 10-9 on party lines.
The proposal, by the panel’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, would have paid people sickened by asbestos awards totaling an estimated $128 billion to $185 billion over the 27-year life of the fund.
The committee was expected to take up a slightly less expensive proposal for payouts by California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, which would cost the fund between $108 billion and $147 billion.
Hatch’s own proposal for payouts for 10 different levels of cancer and other diseases would cost the fund between $92 billion and $127 billion. Shares of companies involved in asbestos litigation sank on news of the disagreement over payouts, and were among the biggest percentage decliners on the New York Stock Exchange.
Leahy urged Hatch to keep working for bipartisan agreement on the payouts, warning that forcing a vote on the complete bill would result in a split along party lines.
Feinstein also urged more time, saying doubts about the fund’s ability to meet a surge in initial claims and whether it is too generous to companies that have already committed to settlements could doom the effort in its present form.