By Bernie Becker - 05/13/14 08:36 PM EDT
Senate GOP leaders on Tuesday called for a vote to kill ObamaCare’s tax on medical devices as part of a broader package to revive tax breaks that expired at the end of last year.
But the tax package is popular with members of both parties, and it’s unclear if Republicans have the leverage to win a vote on the medical device tax.
Republicans stopped short of saying they would oppose the tax package without the medical device vote.
“Most of our members voted to get on the bill. So the bill does enjoy support,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters hours after the Senate voted 96-3 to start consideration of the measure.
“It is always our hope to have amendments, and as to what we’ll do in the future? I can’t tell you right now,” McConnell said. “But our hope is to have amendments and in particular the medical device tax repealed.”
Sen. John Thune (S.D.), another member of GOP leadership, also acknowledged that there was broad bipartisan support to extend the collection of more than 50 expired tax breaks, commonly known as extenders.
“There is a constituency for tax extenders,” Thune said. “It’s probably premature to determine what Republicans might do.”
Lawmakers who want to repeal the medical device tax say it hurts an industry that Washington should be trying to assist.
Republicans said Tuesday that they were confident they would have the support to roll back the medical device tax if it hit the floor, given that 79 senators backed a nonbinding repeal measure last year.
Some Democratic senators from states with burgeoning medical device industries, like Sen. Joe Donnelly (Ind.), also said they were working to get a repeal vote to the floor. But others, like Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (Pa.), said repeal might have to wait for another vehicle.
Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who backed killing the medical device tax last year, said he wouldn’t help this time around even as he pledged to work with Republicans on amendments.
The tax package, which costs roughly $85 billion and contains no offsets, would bring back several tax breaks that have wide support among lawmakers, including the credit for business research.
It passed the Senate Finance Committee by voice vote last month, after senators also expressed support for tax breaks especially important to their home states.
Because of that, and the backing of the business community, lawmakers and lobbyists suspect that the extenders legislation has a better shot at making it through the Senate than the energy efficiency bill torpedoed this week because of a fight over amendments.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), a former Finance chairman and the self-professed father of a tax credit for wind energy, told reporters this week that he would support the package with or without a vote on the medical device tax.
Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), who supports a deduction for state and local sales taxes, added that he thought it was unlikely the wider dispute over amendments would bring down the extenders bill.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who has long opposed efforts to repeal the medical device tax, continued to blame Republicans for the gridlock on Tuesday.
Reid added that he was “not going to cry any big tears” for the medical device industry. “Their profits have gone up significantly since ObamaCare,” he said.
In addition to the medical device tax, Republicans said they were interested in votes to repeal the individual mandate in the healthcare law, and to permanently extend certain tax breaks, like an incentive for business expensing and the sales tax deduction.
Even if the Senate acts this week, both lawmakers and lobbyists say it’s unlikely that a final deal for the expired tax provisions will materialize before November’s elections.
In the House, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) has taken a different approach to extenders, seeking to revive some — like the research credit — for good. Top Democrats opposed the House proposal to permanently extend and expand the research credit last week, saying it would be fiscally irresponsible.
Camp said other tax breaks should be scrapped for good, as he tries to build momentum for tax reform in his final months in Congress.
The extenders package has also exposed some splits among both Democratic and GOP constituencies.
Heritage Action came out against the Senate extenders bill on Tuesday, calling the measure “one of the most egregious examples of Washington using its powers to prop up well-connected interests.” The Club for Growth, another prominent conservative group, has similar objections to the bill.
But the Business Roundtable, a group of corporate chief executives, gave the measure its full-throated support on Tuesday, while Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform supports it as well.
Liberal groups like Citizens for Tax Justice and U.S. PIRG also oppose the measure, saying it would extend loopholes that help companies stash income offshore and that extensions of the tax breaks shouldn’t add to the deficit.