Clinton Township, Mich. President Bush called Friday for federal curbs on asbestos lawsuits, which he said were driving businesses into bankruptcy and denying some victims swift compensation.
"These asbestos suits have bankrupted a lot of companies, and that affects the workers here in Michigan and around the country," said Bush, appearing at a performing arts center just north of Detroit.
Inhalation of the tiny asbestos fibers can cause lung diseases such as asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer. Lester Brickman, a Yeshiva University law professor selected by Bush to discuss the asbestos cases, told the audience that more than 100,000 workers have died as a result of exposure to asbestos.
The American Trial Lawyers Assn. puts the figure at 300,000 and projects that a similar number will die over the next four decades. The group said Bush was "attacking the legal rights of millions of Americans."
Democrats in Congress argue that GOP legislation to create a trust fund for victims has not included enough money for victims and that Republicans are only trying to help their friends in the business and insurance communities by immunizing them from lawsuits.
Hundreds of thousands of people have sued companies that produced the insulating and fireproofing material. The president said the cost of having courts process those claims could amount to $200 billion over time. He asked Congress to send him legislation that would represent a "national solution," but he offered only the broad outlines of what he seeks.