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Senate Turns to Abortion Bill This Week While Frist Prepares for Second Cloture Vote

House to Take Up Medical Errors, Liability Legislation

The Senate resumes two familiar debates Monday while the House will consider a pair of timely medical-related bills this week.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said he’s “not gonna give up” on judicial nominee Miguel Estrada, announcing that the Senate would lead off with continued debate over President Bush’s pick for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

An attempt to end debate on the subject failed Thursday, but Frist said he would not be deterred.

He explained that he will file for cloture again “very soon” and will continue to do so until he gets “an up-or-down vote” on Estrada.

In the meantime, Frist has set aside time Tuesday for the Senate to discuss its constitutional “advise and consent” role in judicial nominations. Vice President Cheney will preside over the discussion.

Democrats have filibustered his nomination because, they claim, he has not answered their questions.

In other Senate business, the chamber on Tuesday will turn its attention to a bill sponsored by Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (Pa.) that would ban the procedure opponents call partial-birth abortion, known technically as dilation and extraction.

President Bill Clinton twice vetoed similar legislation, but Frist said the chances it will become law are “very good,” noting that Bush has said he would sign the bill.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) said the House would take up companion legislation once the Senate passes Santorum’s bill.

Frist said he expects debate on the measure to wrap up by week’s end.

Across the Capitol, the House will first take up the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act on Wednesday.

The Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce committees have reported out different versions of the medical errors bill that are supposed to be merged before Wednesday.

Both versions authorize the establishment of “patient safety organizations” that would confidentially collect data on medical mistakes.

On Thursday the chamber will consider a controversial bill that would cap the amount of noneconomic and punitive damages a court can award in medical malpractice suits.

Bill supporters have said caps are necessary to curb the epidemic of doctors leaving practices because their medical malpractice insurance costs have skyrocketed.

Democrats may offer a substitute amendment.

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