White House to Charlie Norwood: Let's Make a Deal

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Georgia Congressman Charlie Norwood

As many had predicted, the vote over the patients’ bill of rights stalled in the House Thursday after Republican leaders slammed on the brakes. President Bush remains opposed to the Democrats' bill (Norwood-Dingell-Ganske, in Hill shorthand), and has been politicking since his return from Europe for the GOP alternative (sponsored by Kentucky Republican Ernest Fletcher). The Fletcher bill departs from its rival in two primary areas: Capping the amount of liability claims and limiting the venues in which patients can sue their HMOs.

TIME congressional correspondent Douglas Waller, who has been closely following the debate over the patients’ bill of rights, spoke with TIME.com Thursday.

TIME.com: So they’ve delayed the vote. What happens now?

Douglas Waller: Right now, the White House is settling into intensive negotiations with Charlie Norwood in hopes of reaching a compromise that Bush can sign.

And where do those negotiations stand?

Norwood says he’s made enough compromises, so there hasn’t been a whole lot of movement on his end. The President did meet with Norwood today, though, so they’re still talking.

At this point, they’re probably looking for compromise in two places: First, in terms of the liability limits. While the Norwood bill puts a $5 million limit on damages, the Fletcher bill comes in at $500,00. That’s a pretty significant difference.

The other place they may have room to maneuver is the venue for lawsuits — Norwood allows suits in state courts while Fletcher only opens the doors very slightly to state suits. And Dennis Hastert said Thursday that Bush is considering an expansion of the state suit option.

There seems to be some speculation that delaying the vote this week might push the whole debate into September. Could we see that happen?

It’s certainly possible. But I do think that if Bush can peel off enough about a dozen congressmen to side with him, you could see this voted on next week.

How good are the chances of that happening?

It’s hard to tell. The White House is trying to talk to Norwood on this because they haven’t had a lot of luck with other congressmen. And much to the frustration of the White House, Norwood hasn’t moved too much on these negotiations.

The other thing to consider in terms of scheduling is that next week is really busy in the House — they’re already looking at the trade bill and the energy bill, which are both big issues. So adding the patients’ bill of rights to next week’s agenda would make an already busy week that much busier.