Monday :: Apr 4, 2005

Why Is The Medical Malpractice Bill Worth A Filibuster, But The Bankruptcy Bill Wasn't?


by Steve

I admit to wondering many times why some pro-business bills pass easily in this Congress, only to see other pieces of anti-consumer legislation stall weeks later. A good case in point was provided over the weekend in a Washington Post story which reported that Bush’s efforts to move from his successes in restricting class-action lawsuits and consumer bankruptcies onto restricting medical malpractice litigation has seemingly run aground. The Post story postulates that the White House’s failure to get a medical malpractice bill out of a Senate committee and onto the floor of the Senate is a sign of Bush’s waning influence to ram through domestic policy initiatives. That may be, but the story does indicate that this is the same White House that just got through two grossly anti-consumer and pro-business pieces of legislation in the bankruptcy bill and the class-action lawsuit bill, so is this explanation about Bush’s waning influence really valid, or is something else going on here?

Perhaps. It seems that Democrats feel that the class action and bankruptcy bills were easier to achieve victories made all the more certain by the pick-up of several more GOP senators in the last election.

The troubles faced by his "med-mal" proposal may signal a turn in Bush's fortunes on domestic policy. In the first three months of the year, he scored large and comparatively easy victories on legislation to restrain class-action lawsuits and to revamp bankruptcy laws to make it harder for consumers to wipe out their debts -- both measures that had been long sought by business interests.
But those proposals represented what a senior Democratic Senate aide called "low-hanging fruit," easily picked by a newly reelected president. The medical malpractice legislation -- a more complex and more controversial idea -- is proving to be a longer reach.
"They don't have the votes, and they won't get the votes," said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), a staunch adversary of the president's drive.
The difference between the class-action and medical malpractice bills illuminates the extent -- as well as the limits -- of Bush's influence. The class-action bill had lingered on the verge of passage for years, and it had some important Democratic backers. With the expanded Republican majority in this year's Senate, its enactment into law was virtually assured.
This convergence of factors does not exist for medical malpractice legislation. Although passage of the medical malpractice bill is seen by both sides as virtually assured in the House, Senate Democrats plan to block such legislation by using a filibuster, a procedural maneuver that prevents controversial bills from reaching an up-or-down vote. Republicans hold 55 seats in the Senate, five short of the 60 votes needed to stop a filibuster. In addition, a few Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), do not support the measure.

But what gives here? The class action bill was one legislative initiative that voters expressed some degree of support for, as we mentioned a while ago. But why would Democrats feel that the anti-consumer bankruptcy bill wasn’t worth a filibuster, but now the medical malpractice bill is? Remember that 18 Democrats, including the Minority Leader voted with the GOP and White House on that piece of "low hanging fruit." But now an equally repugnant piece of pro-business welfare is suddenly worth a filibuster?

The lesson here apparently is that watching insurance companies and doctors deprive patients of some degree of accountability is worth a filibuster, and even picks up GOP support to moderate or kill a White House initiative. But a bill that hurts consumers and lines the already-burgeoning pockets of the banking and credit card companies not only isn’t worth a filibuster, but is worth significant Democratic support. What explains the difference?

Is it that the physicians don’t give as much in campaign contributions as the ABA and credit card companies do?

Steve :: 8:40 AM :: Comments (9) :: Digg It!