GOP courts Warren to repeal medical device tax
Republicans are looking to an unlikely ally in their bid to repeal a controversial piece of ObamaCare: Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
The Massachusetts Democrat, who has emerged as a liberal hero, has shown support for efforts led by the GOP and business groups to scrap Obamacare’s medical device tax, a 2.3 percent levy on medical devices and supplies projected to raise almost $30 billion over the next decade.
Now, Republican aides and industry sources say they’re urging Warren to sign onto Sen. Orrin Hatch’s (R-Utah) legislation to repeal the tax.
Warren’s office declined repeated requests for comment. It’s a complicated position for a rising Democratic star who progressives are urging to launch a 2016 presidential campaign.
Liberal groups including the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and the Campaign For America’s Future also did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the issue.
Warren, who supports Obamacare in substance, has opposed the medical device tax ever since she defeated then-Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) in 2012. Other prominent progressives, including Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) also support nixing the tax.
Both Massachusetts and Minnesota are home to prominent medical device companies, including Andover-based Philips Healthcare and Minneapolis headquartered Medtronic.
Warren supported Hatch’s amendment to repeal the tax in March 2013, but she did not co-sponsor a similar Hatch bill in the last Congress.
Republicans praised her policy position, but they couldn’t help but criticize what they said was hypocritical politics for a lawmaker who has crafted an image as crusader against giant corporations.
“Elizabeth Warren is to the left of the left wing movement,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the conservative American Action Forum and former economic adviser to 2008 GOP presidential nominee and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz).
Holtz-Eakin said that it’s quite telling that she’d be willing to support getting rid of this.”
“It tell you that it’s just really bad policy,” he said. “But don’t be fooled — she’s neither the first nor the last politician to want to have it both ways. Take her at face value, this is a hypocritical political position given everything else she says.”
A senior Republican House aide said that Warren is “very critical of pro-business members, but when it affects her home state she’s singing a different tune.”
While Warren risks such jabs with her position on the issue, Democrats appear unfazed.
A senior Democratic strategist called the medical device tax the “definition of Washington small ball.”
“I have a hard time seeing Sen. Warren or other progressives supporting any type of broader bill that would repeal the medical device tax and hurt other parts of Obamacare,” the Democratic strategist said, adding that “every now and again Warren and K Street might agree.”
“Even progressives might disagree with her on some things, but anyone trying to challenge Elizabeth Warren’s record as pro-consumer with an attack on her support of the medical device tax is barking up the wrong tree,” the strategist said.
Hatch is expected to re-introduce his legislation in the Senate “in the coming days,” said J.C. Scott, senior executive vice president of government affairs at the Advanced Medical Technology Association (AdvaMed), the medical device industry’s leading trade group in Washington.
“We’re cautiously optimistic that we have the votes to repeal the tax early in the year,” said Scott, who said that their lobbying included outreach to Warren’s office.
Republicans now are planning to hone their strategy for ObamaCare next weekend during their retreat in Hershey, Pa. Some in the GOP are urging Congress to pass a bill that would repeal all of Obamacare, which Obama would certainly veto and would garner little Democratic support — especially not from Warren or Franken who agree on substance with the law.
Others are urging a piecemeal approach, targeting the medical device tax and the mandate requiring employers to provide health insurance to employees working at least 30-hours per week.
Hatch’s bill follows similar legislation from Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.), who introduced his bill in the House last week, gaining support from more than half the House, including more than two-dozen Democratic co-sponsors.
“For us, so many Democrats are supporting this because they’re arguing that its stifling economic innovation,” said Paulsen spokesman Drew Griffin, who said that their outreach “indirectly” included Warren and the Massachusetts delegation.
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