In Pennsylvania Senate race, debate swirls around medical device tax

The Senate hopefuls in Pennsylvania are jousting this week over a new tax on medical device makers. 

GOP candidate Pat Toomey on Thursday went after Rep. Joe Sestak (Pa.), his Democratic opponent, over a provision of the new healthcare reform law that slaps a 2.3 percent tax on companies that make stents, catheters, defibrillators and a host of other medical devices.

Toomey, a former restaurant owner, says the provision will hobble small businesses amid an economic downturn when the state can't afford to lose jobs.

"These companies work day in and day out to develop life-saving technology that increases the quality of life for millions of Americans," Toomey said Thursday at a campaign stop in Pittsburgh. "But once again, Joe Sestak falls back on his liberal instincts and votes for billions in higher taxes." 

Sestak's office was quick to respond, noting that Toomey — who served three terms in the House, beginning in 1999 — supported of a 2002 law that imposed new user fees on medical devices, and opposed nearly $6 billion to help the Food and Drug Administration bring new products to the market more quickly.

Toomey, said Sestak advisor April Mellody, "is trying to mislead people about this legislation rather than be accountable for his own dismal record on the issue."

"He claims to support our seniors, yet wants to privatize Social Security," Mellody said in an e-mail. "He positions himself as a moderate but advocates for eliminating all corporate taxes at the expense of the middle class."

The medical device tax is expected to generate revenues of roughly $20 billion over the next decade — half what Democrats had initially proposed.