Frist, Reid Bicker on Asbestos Lawsuit Bill

Tongue firmly in cheek, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (search) — a cardiac surgeon — pledged Tuesday to resuscitate Democratic leader Harry Reid (search) if Senate legislation to curb the increasing number of asbestos lawsuits makes him ill.

"I want that bill to come to the (Senate) floor like I want to have a heart attack," Reid, D-Nev., had declared Monday about the pending legislation.

Frist, a Tennessee heart surgeon before being elected to the Senate in 1994, noted to reporters Tuesday that heart attacks are his specialty.

"I'll make sure he gets resuscitated," Frist said, laughing.

On a more serious note, Frist avowed that the asbestos litigation crisis "calls out for reform" and was "something I care passionately about." The Republican leader said, however, he didn't know whether the Senate would take up the bill before the Independence Day recess.

The bill's supporters contend that a fund like the one approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee is the only way to stop large asbestos lawsuits that have bankrupted such companies as Owens Corning Fiberglas (search) and W.R. Grace, (search) and left sick people with no way to pay their medical bills.

The trust fund would compensate people sickened by exposure to asbestos, a fibrous mineral commonly used in construction until the mid-1970s. Asbestos has tiny fibers that can cause cancer and other ailments when inhaled. Millions of people have been exposed, and the diseases often take decades to develop.

Several business groups and insurance companies oppose the bill, along with labor groups, trial lawyers and victims groups.

Reid lambasted the bill Monday, saying it was "very, very short in helping the people that need to be helped -- that is, the unfortunate people in America who have been exposed to asbestos, who are dying of asbestosis (search) or mesothelioma (search)."