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CONGRESS STRUGGLES TO REACH AGREEMENT ON PRIORITY LEGISLATION.

Congressional leaders struggled last week to reach agreement over outstanding issues on class action, asbestos and Medicare legislation, but they had little, if any, progress to report by the end of the week.

Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) confirmed for Liability & Insurance Week Nov. 5 that Republicans were trying to work out compromise language with Sens. John Breaux (D-LA) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA) on the class action bill.

"It shouldn't be too hard to accomplish," he said. "All we need is one more vote and that's it."

He was referring to how Senate Republicans came one vote short of the 60 necessary to shut off debate on a class action bill, S. 1751, on Oct. 22.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) has included class action on a list of priority measures he wants the Senate to pass before Nov. 21, when it is scheduled to adjourn.

The main reason Breaux might not succeed in getting a final compromise, Lott said, was that he is spending all his waking hours trying to reach a compromise on the Medicare bill.

If no class action compromise is reached, Lott said, Republicans could consider adding S. 1751 as an amendment to one of the appropriations bills which Congress is required to pass before adjournment.

He was less optimistic about the chances to pass a Medicare prescription drug bill. Even if the conferees are able to reach agreement on a final bill, he said, he doubted it could get through the Senate.

Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-SD), a conferee who has not been allowed to attend the final negotiating sessions by Conference Chairman Bill Thomas (R-CA), sounded just as pessimistic Nov. 4.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) called the bill "on life support" Nov. 4 but said it could be "resuscitated" if the negotiators chose a bipartisan approach.

Only two Democratic conferees have been allowed to attend the negotiating sessions, Breaux and Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT).

Frist also has the Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act on his priority list and met with Sens. Christopher Dodd (D-CT), Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Daschle Nov. 4 to try to resolve outstanding issues.
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Publication:Liability & Insurance Week
Date:Nov 9, 2003
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