- The Washington Times - Monday, June 15, 2015

The GOP-led House is set to repeal Obamacare’s medical device tax this week, forcing Democrats either to stand by President Obama’s signature law at all costs or side with industry groups who say the tax on pacemakers, artificial joints and other products is a job killer that stifles innovation.

The repeal could be the one significant tweak to the Affordable Care Act of 2010 that makes it through Congress this year, as Republicans team up with Democrats who’ve said the 2.3-percent excise is particularly damaging back home, despite their support for the 2010 law overall.

Repeal-seekers say the device industry has helped real patients and cut costs by making health care more efficient, so there is no reason to hamstring their progress.

Thirty-two Senate Democrats backed repeal in a 2013 budget vote, and even noted liberal Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat, has called for the tax’s demise.

The tax, which took effect in January 2013, is “costing jobs, it’s sending businesses overseas,” Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, said Monday. “We think it’s hurting seniors and we think it ought to be repealed.”

The GOP-dominated House will vote Thursday, placing pressure on Republican counterparts in the Senate to schedule a vote after it finishes its debate on defense bills.

So far, five Democrats have cosponsored the Senate version of the repeal bill — Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, both of Minnesota.

Even so, any effort to chip away at Obamacare may be a bridge too far for other Senate Democrats.

“I think [Democrats] will try to block it even though there is wide bipartisan support for repealing this job-killing tax,” said Donald Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

The push comes at a delicate time for Obamacare. The Supreme Court will rule within weeks whether exchange subsidies can be paid in dozens of states that use the federal HealthCare.gov website, and Republicans are salivating over the chance to use a ruling as a major cudgel against the law, while stripping away less significant provisions where they can.

Some Democrats have defended the tax, saying the manufacturers have more customers thanks to Obamacare, so they can afford to pay, and the White House has threatened to veto any bill that makes it out of Congress, saying the tax pays for coverage provisions that have helped more than 16 million Americans.

“This excise tax is one of several designed so that industries that gain from the coverage expansion will help offset the cost of that expansion,” the White House said in a veto threat late Monday.

Also, House leaders haven’t replaced roughly $24 billion in revenue that would be lost in the next decade from repealing the medical-device tax. They say the economic growth that would be unleashed by repealing the tax will make up for lost revenue.

“That is not a problem,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, said Monday. “We have a philosophical belief that, when it comes to tax policy, you don’t have to pay for the idea that you’re taking away a tax.”

The Ways and Means Committee voted this month, 25-14, to repeal the tax, with Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin the lone Democrat to support the bill.

Other Democrats on the panel objected at the time, saying the GOP was tacking money onto the deficit.

“Is there going to be a pay-for?” the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, said before the vote. “I think the answer is probably no.”

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