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
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
"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.
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
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. …