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Taking Care Of (State) Business

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Joe Lieberman may be best known as a moral leader, but he's also a politician--one who has aggressively defended his state's corporate interests. In his 12 Senate years, he has been a dogged advocate for Connecticut's top employers in the pharmaceutical, insurance and defense industries.

There's nothing uncommon--or wrong--about a politician's working on behalf of his constituents; Lieberman's service is no different from a Michigan politician's protecting the auto industry or a Texas politician's looking out for big oil. But it helps explain his enormous popularity in Connecticut, the generous contributions he has received from its industries and some of the positions he has taken on their behalf.

Insurance companies, for instance, have handed him more cash ($197,000) than any other Senator has received this election. That has not kept Lieberman from favoring a plan that would give patients a new right to sue their insurer-owned HMOs. But in general he has been eager to take the insurers' side. Lieberman is one of a handful of Democrats who support limits on the liability of corporations and, in turn, their insurers for injuries caused by products and services. He has sponsored bills to reduce the number of lawsuits by workplace victims of asbestos and to eliminate legal claims for pain and suffering by car-accident victims in return for lower insurance rates. He also fought for procedural hurdles and caps on suits resulting from Y2K failures.

Lieberman is also a top recipient of money from the drug industry--$91,000 in this election. Pfizer, which operates a major research facility in Connecticut, flew him on its corporate jet to a lavish resort in West Virginia, where he spoke at a large drug-company gathering in 1998. This treatment has not kept him from pushing for prescription-drug benefits for Medicare recipients--something the pharmaceutical firms fear will lead to government control of their prices. But Lieberman helped pass an amendment that prevented low-priced generic drugs from being made available to consumers earlier; that has helped maintain billions of dollars in sales for the brand-name producers. He also voted to table an amendment that would have required manufacturers of medical devices like syringes to be fully accurate in labeling. And he voted to make it optional, rather than mandatory, for producers of medical devices like pacemakers and artificial heart valves to track the performance of their products after implantation.

For the defense industry, which has given Lieberman $63,000 in campaign cash this year, the Senator has used his seat on the Armed Services Committee to foster production of the Navy Seawolf submarine in Groton and land a $2.15 billion contract for a tactical fighter whose Pratt & Whitney engine is built in Hartford.

Of the pro-industry votes, Lieberman spokesman Dan Gerstein said, "It's not a question of benefiting a company but protecting jobs and economic interests [in Connecticut]. He votes in the best interests of his constituents." --By Michael Weisskopf and Adam Zagorin. With reporting by Douglas Waller


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Cover Date: August 21, 2000

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