By Mike Lillis - 10/01/13 04:39 PM EDT
A repeal of the medical device tax would not catalyze a deal to end the government shutdown, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday.
"I don't think it would work," he told reporters in the Capitol.
Hoyer, the Democratic whip, gave three reasons for his pessimism.
First, Democrats are not willing to negotiate the 2010 healthcare law in the context of the separate fiscal fight over the shutdown, Hoyer said.
"It's an extraneous issue, and if you start this extraneous issue, then the next extraneous issue, where do you stop on extraneous issues?" he asked.
Second, the Republican proposal to repeal the tax – which was tabled by Senate Democrats Monday night – would have added almost $30 billion to the deficit, and Democrats won't support such a measure, Hoyer warned, without an offset for those costs.
"It's absurd, this Republican concept that somehow you don't have to pay for tax cuts, only for spending," he said. "Both create debt."
And third, Hoyer argued that GOP leaders are wary of voting on the medical tax measure as a stand-alone bill for fear of a backlash from conservative groups that want to repeal, not improve, ObamaCare.
"If that bill were put on the floor free-standing … I think it would have a good chance of passage. … Why don't they do that?" he asked. "One reason they don't do it, in my opinion, is that it would improve, from their perspective, healthcare [reform]."
Early Sunday morning, House GOP leaders attached a repeal of the 2.3-percent medical device tax to their underlying continuing resolution (CR) as part of an effort to appease conservative Republicans who reject any spending bill that doesn't attempt to derail ObamaCare. The measure passed in the House, with 17 Democrats joining all Republicans but was dismissed shortly afterwards by Senate Democrats, who sent a "clean" CR back to the House.
That package was the second of three GOP efforts this month to get a CR that undermines ObamaCare to the president's desk. All three were shot down by the Senate. The impasse caused the government to shut down at midnight Tuesday.
Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the second-ranking Senate Democrat, has said repeatedly in recent weeks that the repeal of the medical device tax could be a way to break the stalemate. But he's emphasized that its costs would have to be offset, and the bill would have to come up outside the context of the CR debate.
“We can work out something, I believe, on the medical device tax,” Durbin said on CNN’s “New Day” Tuesday morning. “As long as we replace the revenue so that we don’t put a hole in our deficit and respond to this in a responsible fashion. That’s one thing the Republicans want to talk about it. Let’s sit down, and put that on the table."
Hoyer agrees with that strategy, but he isn't confident the Republicans will go for it.
"I'm not sure that, as a free-standing bill, they have the confidence that it wouldn't be perceived by the radical right, that has no alternative other than to repeal the Affordable Care Act, that they would be for that," he said. "But my sense is, there would be a good chance of that having a majority on the floor."