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After the latest version of asbestos reform legislation failed in the Senate in April, lawmakers said negotiations would continue. Well, the bump in the road got a little bigger when talks broke down Friday without an agreement. The legislation would have created a 27-year, privately funded, publicly administered multibillion-dollar fund to resolve an asbestos problem that has sickened thousands of workers and saddled corporate America with massive liabilities. Yet lawmakers, union leaders, insurers and companies with asbestos-related liabilities have gone back and forth on the size of the fund and which party would contribute how much. Democrats and labor groups contend that the proposed fund has major solvency problems. As the controversial bill now stands, the trust fund would have $124 billion in it, including a contingency fund of $10 billion. Of that, insurers would contribute about $46 billion, and companies with asbestos-related claims would contribute about $57 billion. Another $1.5 billion would come from existing bankruptcy trusts, and the rest of the funds would come from investment earnings. “I continue to believe that reaching consensus is the only way for Congress to enact a national trust fund that fairly compensates victims and at last resolves the asbestos crisis,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said in a statement Friday. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., had earlier agreed to meet with a mediator in an effort to break the impasse between the parties. The negotiations also involved business, labor and insurance representatives. Edward Becker, former chief judge of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, mediated the issue. Frist’s and Daschle’s offices didn’t return phone calls Friday. The solvency of the fund continues to be a key factor in its acceptance among lawmakers. Bankrupt Federal-Mogul Corp., for example, is expected to make the largest payment to the fund yet — $2.2 billion — even though the company recently told lawmakers it couldn’t afford it. Federal-Mogul wants its payments into the proposed fund to be reduced, noting that other companies have much larger asbestos liabilities but have been told to pay less. The company maintains that without its payments and $1 billion in insurance, the trust fund would likely face insolvency. Copyright �2004 TDD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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