What do you do when the rules favor the little guy over big business? If you’re George W. Bush, you re-write the rules.
The Wall Street Journal reports  one of the Bush administrations last projects before leaving the White House will be to ram through a massive re-write of federal product safety rules aimed at protecting consumers. Essentially, this means that if you’re hurt by a defective product, your ability to sue the manufacturer will be severely limited.
John Haber, the American Association for Justice’s chief executive, called the move “the gift that keeps on giving for corporations.”
Here’s a video of the Wall Street Journal’s very skewed, pro-business, take on the story. When Alicia Mundy calls the Bush strategy “brilliant,” I can’t tell if she’s being sarcastic. (A fun game: count how many times she uses the phrase “tort reform,” a masterpiece of Republican framing.) And I apologize for the ad at the beginning of the video.
WASHINGTON — Bush administration officials, in their last weeks in office, are pushing to rewrite a wide array of federal rules with changes or additions that could block product-safety lawsuits by consumers and states.
The administration has written language aimed at pre-empting product-liability litigation into 50 rules governing everything from motorcycle brakes to pain medicine. The latest changes cap a multiyear effort that could be one of the administration’s lasting legacies, depending in part on how the underlying principle of pre-emption fares in a case the Supreme Court will hear next month.
Bush Administration officials are using their last days in office to rewrite a wide array of federal rules in order to block product safety lawsuits by consumers and states. WSJ’s Alicia Mundy reports. (Oct. 15)
This year, lawsuit-protection language has been added to 10 new regulations, including one issued Oct. 8 at the Department of Transportation that limits the number of seatbelts car makers can be forced to install and prohibits suits by injured passengers who didn’t get to wear one.
These new rules can’t quickly be undone by order of the next president. Federal rules usually must go through lengthy review processes before they are changed. Rulemaking at the Food and Drug Administration, where most of the new pre-emption rules have appeared, can take a year or more.
The Bush administration’s efforts to protect corporations that comply with federal rules from legal action have fueled a long-running power struggle between business interests, which support the efforts, and consumer groups and trial lawyers who have denounced the moves.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform supports pre-emption as part of its campaign to “neutralize plaintiff trial lawyers’ excessive influence over the legal and political systems,” according to its Web site. “It’s exceedingly difficult for companies to comply with 50 different state standards,” the Institute’s president, Lisa Rickard, said in an interview.
The American Association for Justice, the trial lawyers’ lobby, is trying to formulate a strategy to undo pre-emptive rules. “This is the gift that keeps on giving for corporations,” said the association’s chief executive, Jon Haber.