Durbin Signals Democrats Won’t Bite on Medical Device Tax Repeal (Updated)

(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)
(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)
Posted September 29, 2013 at 12:13pm

Updated 5:47 p.m. | Senate Democrats have no appetite for entertaining a yearlong delay of Obamacare, but what about repealing the medical device tax?

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin said Sunday that also looks to be a non-starter, at least in the form sent over by the House in the middle of the night.

“I support taking a look at the medical device tax. Keep in mind, though, that we anticipate millions of more patients using medical devices with some profit associated with it to the medical device companies,” the Illinois Democrat said on “Face the Nation” on CBS. “That’s why the tax is there, but I’m willing to look at that, but not with a gun to my head, not with the prospect of shutting down the government.”

Durbin’s one of many Senate Democrats who supports repealing or modifying the 2.3 percent excise tax that the health care overhaul law imposes on gross sales from medical device-makers. A total of 34 members of the Senate Democratic Conference actually backed an amendment to the Senate’s budget resolution calling for the tax to be repealed.

It is worth noting, however, that the amendment language offered by Republican Orrin G. Hatch of Utah and Democrat Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota called for budget neutrality in getting rid of the tax:

The Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Budget may revise the allocations of a committee or committees, aggregates, and other appropriate levels in this resolution for one or more bills, joint resolutions, amendments, amendments between the House and the Senate, motions, or conference reports related to innovation, high quality manufacturing jobs, and economic growth, including the repeal of the 2.3 percent excise tax on medical device manufacturers, by the amounts provided in such legislation for that purpose, provided that such legislation would not increase the deficit over either the period of the total of fiscal years 2013 through 2018 or the period of the total of fiscal years 2013 through 2023.

The amendment that the House sent over

Asked about efforts to repeal the tax last week, Klobuchar said that finding a way to make up the budget gap remains an unresolved issue.

“I continue to look for ways to reduce or repeal the medical device tax. I think it would be good for the country. I think we’re looking right now for an offset that everyone agrees to,” Klobuchar said, adding that many Senate Democrats and President Barack Obama aren’t OK with an offsetting provision floated by the House.

Klobuchar also said she did not view the short-term spending measure as the right time for the debate.

“I’ve long been a champion for that,” Klobuchar said. “That is not a strategy that we’re pushing for at this time. We see this as part of a bigger budget deal or as part of some more rational changes to the health care bill.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to see the Senate take a vote on the medical device tax amendment from the House. It appears that Democrats could set up the motion in a way that avoids a stand-alone vote on the subject.

“While some in the Senate Democrat leadership may think employers should get preferential treatment over individuals and families, and that repealing Obamacare’s medical device tax is ‘stupid,’ many other Democrats have made it clear they disagree,” the Kentucky Republican said in a statement issued after the House votes. “They should be allowed to vote to protect the thousands of good American jobs the medical device tax threatens to destroy and to give the same treatment to individuals and families that the White House has already given employers. The choice for Democrat leaders is clear: either shut down the government, or listen to the American people and act.”

The member of “Democrat leadership” making the “stupid” comment that McConnell referred to? His counterpart, Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

Reid differs from many in his own caucus on the medical device provision.

“I’m for changing it. He is not for changing it,” Durbin said shortly after Reid made his comments last week. “My position is it should be replaced and the revenue it raises replaced as well, and I’ve said to the industry there are, I think, fairer ways to deal with this, and to bring some money in from this industry which should do well when more and more people have health insurance and use more medical devices.”

Senate Democrats are not planning to reconvene Sunday, despite cries to do so from some Republicans, including Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.

Democrats will likely move to table, and thus kill, the House amendments on Monday, dealing the measure back to the House. At that point, the House Republicans may very well make another volley.

“I think the House will get back together and in enough time send another provision not to shut the government down, but to fund it, and it will have a few other options in there for the Senate to look at it again,” House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said on “Fox News Sunday.”

On Sunday, Durbin was among those predicting that current appropriations will lapse, resulting in a shutdown. He renewed the call for the House to take up and pass the clean CR.

“We’ve sent from the Senate a clean CR, no strings attached — we didn’t demand the immigration bill pass or anything like that — a clean CR to keep the government in business and not hurt the economy, ultimately that’s what we should do, and I hope when it comes to the debt ceiling, we’ll do the same thing,” Durbin said.

Update 5:47 p.m.

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A group of House Republicans held a rally outside the Capitol on the Senate side Sunday afternoon blasting Reid for not reconvening the Senate a day early, accusing him of running out the clock before the shutdown. Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson issued a statement in response confirming what everyone already knew: The Senate will dispose of the House amendments on Monday.

“Tomorrow, the Senate will do exactly what we said we would do and reject these measures,” Jentleson said. “At that point, [House] Republicans will be faced with the same choice they have always faced: put the Senate’s clean funding bill on the floor and let it pass with bipartisan votes, or force a Republican government shutdown.”

Also on Sunday, Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins said she disagreed with the strategy of the House Republican majority.

“I voted against Obamacare and have repeatedly voted to repeal, reform, and replace it, but I disagree with the strategy of linking Obamacare with the continuing functioning of government-a strategy that cannot possibly work. Instead, I urge the President and congressional leaders to sit down immediately and negotiate at least a stopgap funding measure to avoid a disruption in many vital programs on which our citizens rely,” Collins said in a statement.