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VACCINE INJURY COMPENSATION FOR CHILDREN: UP TO SENATE

Executive Summary

VACCINE INJURY COMPENSATION FOR CHILDREN: UP TO SENATE to determine legislative future for the proposal at the conclusion of the 99th Congress. Compromise legislation (HR 5546), which would provide a pre-litigation, federal no-fault compensation program for children injured by mandated vaccination programs, passed the House by a voice vote under suspension of the rules on Oct. 14. The bill was subsequently placed on the Senate calendar, but unanimous consent is required before consideration on the Senate floor. On Oct. 17 Sen. Hawkins (R-Fla.), the major Senate proponent of the legislation, was negotiating with three colleagues, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Thurmond (R-S.C.), who had indicated in writing that they would object to consideration of the bill. A total of six senators told Hawkins they had been persuaded by the Reagan Administration not to support the legislation. HHS Secretary Bowen wrote a letter to the Hill to complain that the bill would establish too-costly a program. More extensive objections to the measure were voiced by Justice Department officials, including Attorney General Meese, who called several Republican senators to solidify opposition. Justice argued that the bill's federal compensation program, in which disputes would be heard by federal court-appointed "special masters," presents a potential violation of the Constitution's separation of powers provision. The department also contended that the compensation system establishes a new entitlement program. Considering Administration objections, Senate action could be killed with a pocket veto by Reagan. Hawkins was also pleading her case by telephone calls to Administration officials on Oct. 17. Rep. Waxman (D-Calif.), who drafted the compromise measure ("The Pink Sheet" Sept. 22, p. 11 and July 14, p. 9), maneuvered the bill through the House by deleting a provision to require a vaccine excise tax for funding the program. Dropping the tax clause before the bill went to the House floor obviated the need for Ways & Means Committee review. The bill also would require a separate funding measure.

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