Republicans are having trouble getting a proposed cap on non-economic “pain and suffering” damages in medical malpractice suits through the Senate.

The Republicans have lined up only 48 of the 60 votes they need to pass a motion for cloture for S. 22, the Medical Care Access Protection Act.

Cloture motions set a time limit on debate in the Senate. If Republican supporters of S. 22 try to pass the bill without passing a cloture motion, Democratic opponents could delay action on the bill or even kill it altogether by making extreme efforts to extend debate.

All of the 48 senators who voted for cloture for S. 22 were Republicans.

A cloture motion associated with S. 23, a bill that would establish a pain and suffering damages cap solely for suits involving obstetricians and gynecologists, attracted 49 votes for cloture.

“It’s unfortunate that Democrats have chosen to help line the pockets of trial lawyers rather than to help meet the health care needs of this nation,” Senate Majority Leader William Frist, R-Tenn., said after the vote.

But Democrats blasted Republican supporters of S. 22 for failing to give Democrats any formal chance to help shape the bill.

“There has not been a single committee hearing [on the bill],” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. “There has not been a single witness… Not a single opportunity to amend, or a single opportunity to improve, compromise or negotiate. With this insurance industry legislation, every step of the process has been abandoned.”

Reid also criticized Republicans for raising an issue that has failed to win approval several times.

“This is not a serious exercise in legislating,” Reid said. “It is a political stunt being performed for the sole purpose of allowing Republicans to go back to their special interest friends and say, ‘Look what we have tried to do to help.’ But even they should not be fooled by these transparent theatrics.”