Dec. 20, 2005 – Charging that nearly half of the Senate is personally invested in drug corporations that stand to gain from a measure under consideration, a consumer organization yesterday called on lawmakers to nix a peculiar immunity clause from a "must-pass" defense spending bill up for consideration this week.
Until the House of Representatives approved liability protections for the pharmaceutical industry as an amendment to the defense appropriations bill early Monday, opposition groups had been successful in beating it back.
Under the measure, the federal government will invest about $3.8 billion for vaccine development and other pandemic and biological attack preparedness efforts, about $3.3 billion of which will go to the Department of Health and Human Services for drug purchasing and response planning. Additionally, if the amendment in question becomes law, companies will be granted immunity from lawsuits over adverse effects from drugs deemed necessary to combat a public health threat.
In a statement yesterday, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) warned that the amendmentâ€™s "language is so broad that any product considered a â€˜countermeasure,â€™ not just vaccines, could be protected."
Seeking to re-stoke resistance to the measure, FTCR also pointed out that 42 Senators â€“ 27 Republicans and 15 Democrats â€“ collectively hold over $16 million in stock in the very companies that the bill would place under protection. The analysis includes immediate family members and is based on the most recent public finance reports.
Senate leader Bill Frist (R-Tennessee) dismissed questions about the ethics of approving legislation tied so closely to oneâ€™s financial well-being, the Chicago Tribune reported. "These provisions will ensure that we have the capacity to develop products to rapidly protect the American people from a bio-terror attack or flu pandemic," said Frist, who pushed for the provision to be attached to the defense bill and is already under investigation over possible ethics violations related to medical company stock he owned.