A majority of Senate Democrats want to eliminate a $29 billion piece of Obamacare.
Thirty-four Democratic senators joined every Republican Thursday night in voting for a nonbinding budget amendment to repeal the law’s 2.3 percent sales tax on medical devices. It passed 79-20 — a victory for the powerful device industry, which has raised hell over the tax.
The Democratic cosponsors for the measure, offered by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), were Sens. Amy Klobuchar (MN), Al Franken (MN), Joe Donnelly (IN) and Bob Casey (PA) — all of whom are from states with a strong presence among device makers. The No. 2 and No. 3 Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin (IL) and Chuck Schumer (NY) also voted for repeal.
“Today’s action shows there is strong bipartisan support for repealing the medical device tax, with Democrats and Republicans uniting behind our effort,” Klobuchar said after the vote. “I will continue to work to get rid of this harmful tax so Minnesota’s medical device businesses can continue to create good jobs in our state and improve patients’ lives.”
The tax, which went into effect in January, represents a years-long power struggle between the medical device industry and the upper echelons of the Democratic totem pole. Unlike other industries who came to the negotiating table and made concessions during the health care reform debate, device makers firmly resisted, and ended up taking a hit. Since then they have waged a fierce, relentless campaign to repeal the excise tax.
While opponents of the fee contend that it’ll stifle innovation and cost jobs, supporters argue that it’ll have a minimal effect on employment or manufacturing, and that the device industry wasn’t singled out. They also say losing that revenue would undercut health care reform.
Notably, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Finance Chair Max Baucus (D-MT), whose committee has jurisdiction, voted against the repeal measure. That means it’ll be a struggle for the proponents to bring it to the floor for an actual vote.
But Thursday’s symbolic vote gives Republicans plenty of opportunities to exploit sharp Democratic divisions and advance their longstanding goal of hacking away at Obamacare.
“The importance of this vote cannot be overstated,” Hatch said. “For the first time, Democrats and Republicans have come together in recognizing how bad this tax is. We cannot stop here. We must continue the fight to get rid of this tax.”
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.