GOP Contract Promises Business Great Benefits

Article excerpt

NEW YORK _ When the GOP says its proposals are good for America, it means business. Literally.

The Republican measures winding through Congress are a smorgasbord of goodies for most companies _ ranging from curbs on federal regulations and product liability lawsuits to lower corporate taxes.

Opponents claim the GOP agenda will remove deterrents to harmful business behavior and cost billions of tax dollars. But few protests can be heard from companies struggling against what Republicans call unnecessary drags on corporate innovation and profits.

"Generally speaking, some of the proposals and some of the legislation will have a significant favorable impact on business," said Peter Eide, manager of law and policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Lawsuit Curbs.

Consider the mostly hotly contested part of a GOP attempt to reshape the legal system: A measure that would make it harder for consumers to win product liability lawsuits.

The bill would establish a uniform set of laws on product liability, pre-empting state laws. It also would limit punitive damages awarded on the vast majority of state and federal civil lawsuits, not just product liability suits, to $250,000 or three times the economic damages, whatever's greater.

Critics, from consumer groups to many Congressional Democrats, fear less consumer protection and more faulty and dangerous products. But Republicans say lower litigation costs will boost product innovation, insisting that what's good for business can also be good for consumers.

"Reform of product liability will probably reduce the cost of doing business in the U.S. and we expect a large part of that will be passed on in lower product prices," said Don Hilty, a senior fellow at Economic Strategy Institute, a Washington business-funded research group.

Anecdotal evidence shows the potential business benefits.

Cessna Aircraft, for example, hired 2,000 workers in Kansas this year to build single-propeller planes _ after a nearly 10-year hiatus.

The reason: A 1994 law, distinct from the current GOP proposal, freed manufacturers from liability claims arising from crashes involving planes more than 18 years old.

Even consumers agreed the lawsuits over old planes were out of hand. Fliers of small planes for personal and business use felt frustrated by a lack of product choices.

"Some of the new proposals might be icing on the cake," said Tom Chapman, vice president for congressional affairs at the Frederick, Md.-based Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

One element of the GOP proposal, in a broad echo of the aircraft law, would protect manufacturers from lawsuits for damages more than 15 years after they made a product, unless the product caused a chronic illness.

Another bill, passed by the House earlier this month, makes it easier for securities firms to defend against class action securities fraud lawsuits and could force plaintiffs who lose a lawsuit to pay the winner's legal bills. …