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Panetta Criticizes GOP Tort Reform Plan

March 6, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta criticized Republican plans to set federal limits on lawsuit damages, saying Sunday it would usurp authority that belongs to the states.

In one of the first White House comments on tort reform to be debated on the House floor this week, Panetta said President Clinton ``for a long time, has felt that the states ought to have jurisdiction over these issues.″

Panetta, speaking on ABC’s ``This Week with David Brinkley,″ said Republicans contradicted their dedication to states’ rights in seeking a national uniform set of laws on product liability and limits on the sums awarded to injured people.

``Frankly, I don’t understand the Republicans on Capitol Hill. They’re talking about giving the states greater flexibility on welfare, they’re talking about sending school nutrition programs back to the states but when it comes to the laws of this country, particularly the tort laws and protecting consumers they’re willing to have the federal government tell the states what to do,″ Panetta said. ``I think that’s wrong.″

The New York Times reported in its Monday editions that Attorney General Janet Reno and White House Counsel Abner Mikva are having a letter delivered to House Speaker Newt Gingrich on Monday opposing the legislation in its current form.

The Times said it obtained a copy of the letter characterizing the bill as ``unfair, unnecessary and unwise″ and saying it would ``tilt the legal playing field dramatically to the disadvantage of consumers and middle-class citizens.″

The paper quoted Mikva as saying in an interview that the legislation would make it more difficult for ``the average middle-class consumer to try to get his wrongs redressed.″

``When I look at bills like these, I can believe that Speaker Gingrich means what he says when the describes himself as a revolutionary,″ Mikva told the Times.

Legislation to slow down the epidemic of lawsuits in the nation’s courts is part of the House GOP’s ``Contract with America.″

Consumer and environmental groups that oppose the legislation say it will deprive citizens of legal redress if harmed by defective products.

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