- The Washington Times - Monday, February 6, 2006

For the second time in less than a month, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has run afoul of his colleagues by making comments they deem “slanderous.”

The recipients of the Nevada Democrat’s invective yesterday were the authors of the bill that would create a $140 billion trust fund to compensate the victims of asbestos exposure. The money would come from the employers and their insurance companies.

The bill — co-authored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter and ranking Democrat Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont — has been years in the making as victims die and companies go broke paying claims. Mr. Reid yesterday dismissed the bill as the product of lobbyists “buying their way into the Senate.”

Mr. Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, took to the floor and called the accusation “slanderous” and an “outrageous violation” of Rule 19, which prohibits any senator from directly or indirectly impugning another senator.

Mr. Specter noted that victims, labor officials, trial lawyers, manufacturers and insurers have all met in his office to discuss the legislation.

“Anybody else who wanted to come in was welcome,” he said. “I didn’t see the senator from Nevada there once.

“He has talked about the bill in a rambling, disconnected way, which proves only one thing,” Mr. Specter said. “That is, he doesn’t know anything really about the bill.”

At one point, Mr. Reid tried interjecting, apparently to apologize. Mr. Specter refused to let him speak.

“I thought you were finished,” Mr. Reid explained.

“Well, again, you thought wrong,” Mr. Specter replied. “You’re in the habit of thinking wrong. I’m in midsentence, but I’m not surprised to be interrupted.”

Mr. Leahy also chastised Mr. Reid for saying veterans had been fooled into supporting the bill.

When Mr. Reid got to the floor, he apologized.

“If I in any way embarrassed or hurt their feelings, I’m sorry I did that,” Mr. Reid said. “Certainly there was nothing that I said that indicated that they did anything that was unbecoming dealing with this legislation.”

Mr. Specter recalled an episode last month in which Mr. Reid’s office wrote and distributed a booklet about supposed ties between lobbyists and 33 of his colleagues. Mr. Reid apologized but denied having seen the booklet.

“It may be that the senator from Nevada is used to slander, is used to libel, because that’s what he did recently to 33 senators,” Mr. Specter said yesterday. “Regrettably, nobody has challenged him under Rule 19.”

He also expressed fear that Mr. Reid wants to block the bill.

“If he’s successful in obstructing this bill from going forward, it will be a great travesty to the American people, for the asbestos victims who are now not able to collect because their companies are bankrupt,” Mr. Specter said.

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