A Hint Of Bipartisanship On This Obamacare Tax?

By Frank James

March 23, 2013

Anyone looking for a glimmer of bipartisanship in Washington might want to pay attention to the medical device tax that is part of Obamacare. It took a notable, if largely symbolic, hit this week from the left and the right.

The 2.3-percent excise tax on devices ranging from MRI machines to pacemakers to stethoscopes was meant to raise $20 billion over 10 years to help pay for extending health care coverage to the uninsured under the Affordable Care Act.

But so far it has raised more ire than revenue.

In a Senate where the line of demarcation on tax issues between the parties has rarely been starker, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, teamed up to introduce a repeal amendment to the Senate budget resolution. That resolution passed Thursday in the Democratic-controlled chamber in a 79 to 20 vote. Every Republican and most Democrats voted for it.

Klobuchar's news release on the lopsided vote actually contained a quote from Hatch as well as her Minnesota colleague and fellow Democrat, Sen. Al Franken. Those are names you don't usually see in the same news release.

The vote was mainly symbolic, since it came on a nonbinding resolution. The hope, according to a Democratic Senate aide, is that the bipartisan supermajority vote will speed the inclusion of a repeal in tax reform or deficit reduction legislation that might be taken up later this year.

This isn't the first time Democrats and Republicans have been able to agree that they don't like some feature of Obamacare. Two years ago, Congress repealed a requirement that businesses report to the Internal Revenue Service every time they pay at least $600 for goods or services. Lawmakers from both parties (and President Obama) agreed that the provision was too burdensome.

But Obama hasn't abandoned the medical device tax. In a December 2012 interview with a Minneapolis TV news reporter, he said Obamacare would expand the device makers' customer base by adding 30 million newly insured patients, and that paying the tax was the least the device makers should do in return.

The industry disputes the president's argument, saying that there won't be a boom in customers because many of the devices subject to the tax are used on patients who are already being treated, and are uninsured, like some brought to an emergency room.

Klobuchar and Franken have been particularly vocal about the need to end the medical device tax because Minnesota is home to Medtronic, a leader in the industry, and other manufacturers. Medtronic is one of Klobuchar's top campaign contributors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics' OpenSecrets.org.

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