By Bernie Becker - 09/24/13 10:36 PM EDT
But even as Senate Republicans lobby for a repeal vote, it remains more likely that the House would move first to roll back the tax.
House GOP leaders have discussed attaching a repeal of the tax to whatever stopgap spending bill they receive from the Senate, a measure they could receive as late as Sunday. The current government funding measure expires at the end of the next day, Sept. 30.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has already said that he would amend the funding measure to keep the government running through Nov. 15, and to strip House-passed language that would defund the healthcare law.
GOP senators are pushing for other amendment votes related to ObamaCare, but Reid, who opposed a nonbinding measure backing repeal of the medical device tax, could easily stand in the way.
Still, Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said they expected a repeal measure to be offered as an amendment, and Hatch said that he would push to get the medical device tax in the discussions over the debt limit if opponents can’t get it repealed in the funding debate.
Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) first broached the idea of considering a repeal of the tax on Monday.
It’s easy to see why Republicans would latch on to medical device tax, given that it’s among the more unpopular parts of the Affordable Care Act among Democrats.
Opponents of the tax say it would put tens of thousands of jobs at risk, and put a crimp on a high-tech field that creates pacemakers, artificial hearts and an array of devices.
"We have a lot of very brilliant companies that are right on the cusp and that just puts them right off the cusp," Hatch said.
The Senate overwhelmingly approved a nonbinding measure – 79-20 – backing the repeal of the tax during the debate over its budget resolution this year.
Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) – whose state has a healthy medical device industry – have both been out front in pushing for repeal.
Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) recently joined legislation to roll back the tax as well, and other vulnerable Democratic senators backed the earlier budget vote.
In the House, a repeal measure sponsored by Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.) has roughly 260 co-sponsors, including some three dozen Democrats.
On Tuesday, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he too could be open to backing a repeal measure with more teeth, as long as it didn't hurt the overall funding for the healthcare law.
“I have said from the beginning we should be open to changes in the Affordable Care Act,” said Durbin, who also voted for this year's budget amendment. “That is one I would consider – as long as the revenue is replaced, so there is no net loss in revenue.”
But both Reid and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) were among the 20 senators to oppose the budget measure. Baucus told reporters on Tuesday that it would be “unwise” to try to repeal the tax.
Supporters of the tax say they don’t believe the tax would hurt innovation in the medical device field, and that the healthcare law could eventually offset at least some of the cost of the tax.
Increasing the number of insured people in the U.S., supporters of the tax say, would also spark even more demand for medical devices.
Peter Schroeder and Erik Wasson contributed.