- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 18, 2015

Brushing aside a White House veto threat, dozens of House Democrats joined with Republicans on Thursday to repeal Obamacare’s tax on medical devices, approving one tweak to the signature health law that could actually make it through Congress.

Republicans cheered the vote, saying the 46 Democrats and 234 Republicans who voted to scrap the onerous tax were nearing the two-thirds support needed to overcome a promised presidential veto — and that’s even with a dozen Republicans having missed the vote.

The bill would eliminate the 2.3 percent excise tax the Affordable Care Act placed on everything from hospital beds to MRI machines.

The tax is used to pay for other parts of Obamacare, but it’s proved particularly unpopular with Republicans and even Democrats who represent businesses hit by the tax.

“This burdensome tax hurts industry growth and prevents companies from investing in research and development,” said Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, Arizona Democrat who’s supported other minor changes to Obamacare.

Thursday’s vote attracted more Democrats than previous attempts to ditch the tax. A similar effort in 2012 drew support from 37 Democrats, and 17 party members teamed with Republicans in fall 2013 to repeal the tax as part of a stopgap bill that funded the rest of the government.

President Obama, though, defends the tax, saying that his health law has given manufacturers more customers, so they can afford to pay.

“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 budget office said in a statement this week threatening to veto the bill should it reach the president’s desk.

The White House said the tax is central to helping pay for care for the 16 million additional Americans who have health coverage thanks to the law.

Repealing the tax will deprive the government of roughly $24 billion over the next decade — money House Republicans have not made up through spending cuts or tax increases elsewhere.

That’s a sticking point for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrats who says she wants to see the tax repealed, but hasn’t co-sponsored a Senate’s version of the bill.

“Senator Warren supports repeal of the medical device tax with an appropriate offset,” her spokeswoman, Lacey Rose, said Thursday.

Even without Ms. Warren, the Senate bill is close to attracting the 60 votes needed to overcome a potential filibuster, as five Democrats have already signed on as co-sponsors: Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, both of Minnesota.

Should Mr. Obama veto the bill, however, Republicans would have to find still more senators to garner the two-thirds vote needed to override him.

The push comes at a delicate time for Obamacare. The Supreme Court will rule in the coming days 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, as it tries to chip away at less significant provisions.

House Republicans settled on the outlines of a plan this week to wean the country off of Obamacare’s subsidies in anticipation of the ruling, offering to lock in the tax credits through 2015 before letting states opt into a block grant program that would expire at some point in 2017.

GOP leaders are eyeing a fast-track process known as “budget reconciliation” to pass the plan on a simple-majority vote in the Senate, although it would still face Mr. Obama’s veto.

“We are not interested in protecting a fundamentally broken law,” said House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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