Insurance, tort reform marked week in House

WASHINGTON — The House approved a bill last week to let Americans keep individual health plans facing cancellation under the Affordable Care Act.

The vote, 261-157, came a day after President Barack Obama announced a shift in policy to grant a one-year extension on policies insurance companies were set to cancel because they don’t meet the law’s requirements.

Millions of people have received cancellation notices even as many believed they would be able to keep the plans as Obama repeatedly had pledged.

Republicans, who oppose Obamacare, have hammered the president over his oft-repeated statement that people could keep plans they like. They said legislation is needed to fulfill that promise.

“Millions of Americans took the president at his word and now, unexpectedly, are receiving cancellation notices,” said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., who sponsored the bill. “Our straightforward, one-page bill says: If you like your current coverage, you should be able to keep it.”

Most Democrats opposed the measure, calling it a Trojan horse designed to destroy the health law. They argued that Obama already was moving forward on the fix, and his solution would be more beneficial to consumers than what was in the GOP bill. Still, 39 Democrats crossed party lines to vote for it.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said there is a “profound difference” between providing relief to those with canceled policies and the GOP proposal that would “recreate the discriminatory and inefficient” insurance market that existed before.

The Senate is not expected to take up the House legislation.

Reps. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., and Joe Heck, R-Nev., voted for the bill. Reps. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., and Dina Titus, D-Nev., voted against it.

House considers tort reform bill

The House approved a bill that would impose automatic fines on people who file frivolous lawsuits.

Republicans who backed the measure said it is needed to discourage unwarranted litigation that costs businesses millions of dollars. Judges have the option now to impose fines for frivolous claims, but it is not used very often.

Democrats who opposed the bill said it would discourage civil rights litigation, which often relies on evidence gathered during the trial process to build the case. They also complained the bill would encourage defendants to file challenges simply to drag out cases.

The vote was 228 to 195. Amodei and Heck voted in favor. Horsford and Titus opposed it.

Senate GOP blocks D.C. Circuit nominee

Senate Republicans blocked the confirmation of another nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, saying there is no urgent need to fill the vacancy.

The D.C. court is significant politically because it handles most of the legal challenges raised over executive actions. The court is split evenly with four judges appointed by Democrats and four by Republicans, but there are three vacancies.

President Obama has nominated three people to fill the court. The Senate last week failed to move ahead with the confirmation of Georgetown University law professor Nina Pillard after failing to achieve a 60-vote majority. The vote was 56-41.

The Senate earlier this month also failed to reach the 60-vote threshold for nominee Patricia Ann Millett, as Senate Republicans stood in opposition.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, argued that the court needs no more judges, and that Democrats were simply looking to score partisan points.

“The only reason for either this nomination or this cloture vote is deliberately to provoke a confrontation that the majority hopes will be to their partisan political benefit,” Hatch said.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., claimed that the GOP is being disingenuous when it argues that the Circuit Court needs no more judges.

“The argument about not enough work in the court did not seem to come up when it was a Republican nominee for a similar vacancy,” Durbin said.

The Senate likely will replay this debate when Democrats seek to move forward with the confirmation of Robert Wilkins, Obama’s third pick for the D.C. Circuit Court.

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., opposed Pillard. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., also voted “no” so that as majority leader he can have the Senate reconsider her nomination.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau reporter Peter Urban at or 202-783-1760.