Thimerosal summary

Glenn Reynolds was good enough to post a note I sent him reviewing the legislative history of the thimerosal caper, along with some of his own reflections. For those not coming in via Instapundit, here it is, in a slightly edited and expanded version. (For those who are coming in from Instapundit or who are new to the story, see the links further down this post.)

The legislative history:

1. Frist offered a bill to get Eli Lilly off the hook on thimerosal in the Senate. No hearings were held.

2. That provision appeared in neither the House nor the Senate version of the Homeland Security bill as passed before the election, since it has nothing to do with homeland security.

3. After the election, a version of the Homeland Security bill was reported out by the conference committee, with several special-interest goodies, including the thimerosal language, that hadn’t been in either the House bill or the Senate bill.

4. There’s no mystery about who put it in: Armey did. But Armey had no particular interest in the thimerosal stuff. The “mystery” is who asked him to put it in. Frist, the author, specifically says he didn’t, though Armey says he put the language in after consulting with Frist. But no one will say who asked to have it inserted. The natural suspect is Mitch Daniels, the Director of OMB; the early reports were that the pressure came from “the White House,” and Daniels is an ex-officer of Lilly and planning to go back to Indiana, where Lilly is based, to run for governor.

5. The Frist version had a necessary conforming amendment to the Internal Revenue Code. The Armey version, the one that passed, didn’t. As a result, the bill as passed blocks all lawsuits and directs the claims to the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, but the VICP trust fund is still barred by law from paying any such claim.

6. All the thimerosal claims are time-barred by the terms of VICP. Neither the Frist version nor the Armey version deals with that.

[UPDATE: This isn’t quite right. See Wampum for the details.]

So unless the thing gets undone, the families are out of luck. Even if you think — and it’s a reasonable, but not inescapable, view — that claims of damage done by thimerosal ought to be handled under VICP, there’s simply no excuse for this sort of midnight legislating. If you’re going to short-circuit the process, you need to be absolutely sure that you have the substance right.

The back story

The thread starts here, with an exposition of the claimed thimerosal-autism link and the legislative legerdemain.

Then there was this, following up on the politics and relaying some arguments offered by a friend that the thimerosal claims did belong under VICP.

The next follow-up relayed some technical doubts about the likelihood of a link from medicinal chemist Derek Lowe.

Here’s the post relaying Dr. Manhattan’s discovery of the Internal Revenue Code problem.

And finally this, on Lilly’s having purchased thousands of copies of Frist’s book, creating at least the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Note that I’m just playing columnist here; Hesiod has been doing the real political-journalist legwork, and the serious discussions of the technical and policy issues are in Dwight Meredith’s P.L.A. (here, for example), Dr. Manhattan’s Blissful Knowledge, and Derek Lowe’s Lagniappe. This is as good a place as any to mention the high level of both technical seriousness and good manners all three of them have displayed about a topic that could easily have had them throwing brickbats at one another.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: