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Bipartisan group calls for six-month funding bill with medical device tax repeal

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers say they’d support legislation to fund the government that repealed a medical device tax that's helping to fund President Obama's healthcare law.

The measure was put together by Reps. Ron KindRonald (Ron) James KindHouse Democrats hit Republicans on mobile billboard at GOP retreat House Republicans pressuring Democrats to return donations from Ocasio-Cortez Race debate grips Congress MORE (D-Wis.) and Charlie Dent (Pa.), one of a handful of House Republicans who has called for moving a clean bill to fund the government.

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Dent acknowledged that the proposal will be rejected by both conservatives who want much stronger provisions derailing ObamaCare, and liberals who oppose the sequester-level funding cap.

“But it's important that we accept incremental progress when we can. And this is one of those times,” said Dent, one of about a dozen House members who backed the proposal.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidBiden fails to break GOP 'fever' Nevada governor signs law making state first presidential primary Infighting grips Nevada Democrats ahead of midterms MORE (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) quickly rejected the plan.

"We're willing to talk about that and anything else, but this proposal is an act of desperation on their standpoint. You can't do it. It involves tens of billions of dollars," Reid said.

Dent and Kind have circulated a letter to colleagues seeking support for their medical device tax repeal and calling to extend government funding for a full six months.

GOP leaders tried over the weekend to repeal the medical device tax as part of their continuing resolution (CR) package, but it was rejected by Democrats in both chambers for two central reasons: 

First, the Democrats opposed the absence of an offset, which would have resulted in $30 billion in new deficit spending. And second, the Democrats say they're not willing to negotiate ObamaCare provisions as part of the current spending fight.

Still, 17 mostly centrist House Democrats voted with Republicans to repeal the device tax in a short-term spending bill over the weekend, though Kind voted against that proposal.

The Kind-Dent proposal attempts to address the Democrats' first issue, offsetting the cost with a "pension smoothing" provision tucked into last year’s Senate transportation bill that would adjust how much companies contribute to pensions.

But their approach does not address Democrats' concern about setting a precedent by considering unrelated provisions as a part of must-pass fiscal bills.

Indeed, Democratic leaders in both chambers were quick to shoot down the proposal, at least in part, because it would extend the sequester cuts for six months. House Democratic leaders also argued against Kind's proposal at a party meeting Thursday morning, according to several Democrats in the room.

“The 986 [level] for six months is devastating to our country,” Pelosi said Thursday afternoon during a press conference, referring to the sequester's $986 billion spending cap. “When I said we'll approve the number, it was for six weeks, not for six months.”

Dent said he and Rep. Jim GerlachJames (Jim) GerlachThe business case for employer to employee engagement 2018 midterms: The blue wave or a red dawn? Pa. GOP 'disappointed' by rep retiring after filing deadline MORE (R-Pa.) presented the plan to House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerAre maskless House members scofflaws? Israel, Democrats and the problem of the Middle East Joe Crowley to register as lobbyist for recording artists MORE (R-Ohio) on Wednesday.

“They're not prepared to say he's going to endorse it. You'd have to talk to him,” Dent said. “But he's certainly aware of it.”

It is true that lawmakers from both parties are no fans of the medical device tax, with Democrats from states with large device industries — such as Minnesota, Massachusetts and Indiana — helping to lead the charge for repeal.

Senate Majority Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinBipartisan infrastructure deal takes fire from left and right Senate Judiciary begins investigation into DOJ lawmaker subpoenas Garland pledges review of DOJ policies amid controversy MORE (D-Ill.) has also sounded open to repealing it, as long as the revenue to help pay for the healthcare law was replaced. Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchDrug prices are declining amid inflation fears The national action imperative to achieve 30 by 30 Financial market transactions should not be taxed or restricted MORE (Utah), the top Republican on the tax-writing Finance Committee, called the tax a “stupid dumb-ass thing” in the run-up to the current shutdown.

The full Senate expressed support for repeal, 79-20, in a nonbinding budget resolution vote this year.

But Reid and Finance Committee Chairman Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusCryptocurrency industry lobbies Washington for 'regulatory clarity' Bottom line Bottom line MORE (D-Mont.) were among those voting against repeal. Supporters of the medical device tax say that the industry will be helped after ObamaCare increases insurance rolls by millions of people.