Roll Call: Senate Fails to Vote Cloture on Medical Tort Reform

On July 9, by a vote of 49 to 48, the Senate was unable to muster the three-fifths majority necessary to invoke cloture and proceed to consider the Patients First Act of 2003 (S.11). The bill would have limited punitive damage awards in medical malpractice cases to $250,000, a move strongly opposed by the trial lawyers, who are critical financial supporters of liberal Democrats in Congress and around the country. Trial lawyers make millions of dollars every year on medical malpractice suits alone, awards that help drive up the costs of practicing medicine for both patients and doctors.

Democrats did all they could to prevent the legislation-which is also supported by President George W. Bush-from passing, using delaying tactics that eventually sparked the cloture motion. The issue was primarily partisan, as all but two Republicans, Senators Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Richard Shelby (Ala.), voted in favor of imposing cloture.

Sen. John Ensign (R.-Nev.) voiced support for the bill because in his state-one of the fastest-growing in the country-doctors are migrating to other states where malpractice suits aren’t as rampant, while no new doctors are coming in.

“In our health care system today, we have too many patients who have been denied care simply because physicians cannot afford the medical liability premiums they are facing today,” he said.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D.-Ill.), a former malpractice lawyer, spoke out in opposition to the bill.

“I understand that my profession has been the butt of a lot of jokes and a lot of derision,” he said. “I have heard members come to the floor and talk about those greedy lawyers. I don’t think there is anything unfair or insidious about this any more than it is unfair or insidious for those who are defending the person accused of wrongdoing.”

This was followed by some emotional oratory from Sen. Russ Feingold (D.-Wis.), who said, “I find it hard to believe that anyone in this body can look any of the thousands of victims of catastrophic medical malpractice in the eye and say, ‘$250,000 is all your pain and suffering are worth.’” He did not note, of course, that most of the Democratic senators’ votes will be worth at least that much in political donations from trial lawyers.

A “yes” vote was a vote to proceed with cloture and was, in effect, a vote for the bill to limit punitive damages for trial lawyers in medical malpractice suits. A “no” vote was a vote in opposition to imposing cloture and was, in effect, a vote against the bill.

FOR THE CLOTURE MOTION: 49 AGAINST THE CLOTURE MOTION: 48
REPUBLICANS FOR (49):
Alexander
Allard
Allen
Bennett
Bond
Brownback
Bunning
Burns
Campbell
Chafee
Chambliss
Cochran
Coleman
Collins
Cornyn
Craig
Crapo
DeWine
Dole
Domenici
Ensign
Enzi
Fitzgerald
Frist
Grassley
Gregg
Hagel
Hatch
Hutchison
Inhofe
Kyl
Lott
Lugar
McCain
McConnell
Murkowski
Nickles
Roberts
Santorum
Sessions
Smith
Snowe
Specter
Stevens
Sununu
Talent
Thomas
Voinovich
Warner

DEMOCRATS FOR (0):

REPUBLICANS AGAINST (2):
Graham (S.C.)
Shelby

DEMOCRATS AGAINST (45):
Akaka
Baucus
Bayh
Biden
Bingaman
Boxer
Breaux
Byrd
Cantwell
Carper
Clinton
Conrad
Corzine
Daschle
Dayton
Dodd
Dorgan
Durbin
Edwards
Feingold
Feinstein
Harkin
Hollings
Inouye
Johnson
Kennedy
Kohl
Landrieu
Lautenberg
Leahy
Levin
Lieberman
Lincoln
Mikulski
Murray
Nelson (Fla.)
Nelson (Neb.)
Pryor
Reed (R.I.)
Reid (Nev.)
Rockefeller
Sarbanes
Schumer
Stabenow
Wyden

INDEPENDENT AGAINST (1):
Jeffords

NOT VOTING: 3

REPUBLICANS (0): DEMOCRATS (3):
Graham (Fla.)
Kerry
Miller


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