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Once Again Congress is Trying to Pass Med-Mal Tort Deform

February 13, 2011

The Hill

GOP clashes over medical malpractice

By Julian Pecquet – 02/09/11 01:03 PM ET

House Republicans clashed with one another Wednesday over a longtime GOP priority: limiting medical malpractice damages.

At a Judiciary Committee markup, one GOP lawmaker accused another of proposing legislation that would violate the Constitution. Republicans had the House read the Constitution as one of their first actions upon winning a majority, and new House rules require lawmakers to provide justification in the Constitution for any bill they propose. The battle arose over legislation proposed by Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) that imposes a $250,000 cap on non-economic medical malpractice damages.

Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), a former felony court judge and a member of the Congressional Tea Party Caucus, said Gingrey’s bill violates the Constitution during a Judiciary Committee markup of the bill. He also warned he’d vote against the measure if it imposes caps on states that don’t want them.

“I got problems with that,” Poe said. “I think it’s a violation of the Tenth Amendment.”
Democrats sparked the fight with an amendment from Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) that would prevent Gingrey’s bill from overriding state constitutions that forbid medical malpractice caps. The bill, however, allows states that already have caps in place to retain them.
Johnson agreed to pull his amendment after Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tenn.) agreed to work with him after Wednesday’s mark-up.

Johnson and Rep. Melvin Watts (D-N.C.) baited Republicans by taking them to task for criticizing healthcare reform as a federal intrusion while proposing legislation that overrides state constitutions.

“I think President Reagan would be appalled,” Johnson said.
Added Watts: “I thought it was the Republican members of our committee who believe in states’ rights.”Smith, who has made tort reform one of his top five priorities, defended the law, saying tort reform falls under the purview of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause.
But the accusation of hypocrisy on states’ rights clearly stung some Republican members of the panel.

“If Alabama and New York want to be a haven for malpractice suits, it’s great for Texas,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas). “I’m reticent to allow Congress to impose our will on the states.”