Repeal of a device tax that has hit Minnesota medical technology companies hard could be the sweetener that breaks the deadlock over the debt limit and the government shutdown, which went into its 11th day Friday.
A repeal the 2.3 percent medical device tax levied under President Obama’s health care law was part of a package Senate Republicans brought to the White House Friday. The offer would temporarily raise the debt ceiling and fund the government, which has been shut down since Oct. 1.
Maine Republican Susan Collins told reporters afterwards that Obama did not reject the idea of repealing the medical device tax out of hand. She was quoted saying “he clearly also recognizes that it is not the heart of Obamacare.” Her account was seconded by Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, who said the president called the tax a “legitimate concern” that might not be an integral part of the new health care law.
The Minnesota congressional delegation has uniformly opposed the tax, which has cost large medical technology companies like St. Jude and Medtronic millions of dollars already. But Democrats in the delegation largely oppose making the device tax, or any aspect of Obamacare, part of the budget fight.
Republicans, on the other hand, have tied several measures defunding or delaying Obamacare to a spending resolution that would reopen the government.
Minnesota Republican Erik Paulsen, working with Democrat Ron Kind of Wisconsin, has been pushing behind the scenes in the House to offer up a device tax repeal as a compromise. The question remains, however, whether that alone would be enough for Republicans, or whether Democrats would even put it on the table.
Some House Democratic leaders reacted with dismay at the prospect of repealing a tax that is expected to raise $30 billion to help fund the new health care law over the next decade. New York Democrats Joe Crowley, vice chairman of the Democratic caucus, lampooned the proposal.
But with closed-door talks intensifying Friday to end the impasse, it remained hard to predict whether the tax will stay on or go off.
Add Minnesota Republican Erik Paulsen to the ranks of GOP House members ready to cut a deal with Democrats, and possibly water down or drop their demand to block Obamacare as a condition of keeping the government open. The following is a lightly-edited transcript of an interview on Tuesday.
Q - Who is going to shoulder the blame for this shutdown?
A - We’re all going to shoulder some of the blame. I took some calls myself in the office. We had about 100 calls in D.C. about 60 in Minnesota. People obviously, are saying ‘Hey, the government doesn’t need to be shut down.’ ‘Why is this happening?’ A handful say, ‘stay strong.’ It’s a little bit of a mix… The bottom line is it’s not good to have a government shutdown, folks expect government to work…
Q - What’s the exit strategy?
A - Now we’re relegated to seeing what we can do behind the scenes, because the leaders aren’t talking like they should. That’s what I’m doing… (cites discussions with Wisconsin Democrat Ron Kind).
Q - Is there a way out besides putting off Obamacare?
A - There is an opportunity where there are Democrats that have indicated that they might support some delays of some components of the health care law, particularly around the individual mandate. However, the one vote that has garnered the most bipartisan support was repeal of the medical device tax… If we can look at some ideas there, maybe that will break up the logjam.
Q - Can you see yourself voting for a ‘clean’ funding resolution to get the government running again?
A - I will look at anything that comes in front of me to end the impasse, because we do need to put an end to it.
Q - Including a ‘no-conditions’ measure, just simply keep the government open?
A - Yup, I will look at anything that comes in front of me to end the impasse.
Q - Let me ask you the kind of question you’d get in a Town Hall: ‘You Republicans are all in the throes of the Tea Party extremists, why don’t you jettison them and do a deal with the Democrats?’
A - That’s been part of my conversation with Ron Kind as we look to break the impasse on the device tax. … An all or nothing approach is not a solution to the impasse that we’re at. The reality is that when this ends, and it will end, it will be bipartisan in conclusion. It has to be. One side is not going to get everything they want.
Q - Isn’t there a precedent that’s being set here? If you can introduce something like Obamacare, that’s been settled law for a few years, and put that into a budget discussion, what keeps anybody from bringing up any issue in any year’s budget resolution? Where does this end?
A - Any law can be changed, obviously, at any time. Even knowing the president has changed or delayed parts of the law on his own …. And there continue to be a lot of questions about employment with the law, and now health insurance premiums as the rollout takes place, it’s only natural there’s going to be heightened awareness of the Obamacare, and that’s why it’s generating more excitement among Republicans right now.
As the Senate voted Friday to advance a final government spending bill that doesn’t defund Obamacare, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann managed an hour of time on the House floor to air a passel of GOP objections to the health care law.
With the government lurching toward shutdown, one of Bachmann’s closing arguments relied on the recent security breach in Minnesota involving the unauthorized release of personal information of some 1,500 insurance agents via an email sent by an employee at MNsure, the agency that will run the Obamacare insurance exchange in the state.
Opponents of the new health law say the incident shows the inherent dangers of giving government bureaucrats access to personal data, including social security numbers, on millions of Americans shopping for health insurance. In order to determine eligibility for subsidies, the critics say, the new exchanges will have to maintain a data “hub” of personal information about patients’ finances, job status, taxes and health needs.
“We have never before seen in the history of the United States a conflagration and a centralizing of all of this personal data in one hub,” Bachmann said. “And how can we, the American people, have any level of assurance that this data will be secure?”
Backers of the law argue that the system has undergone extensive security testing and that the government must still abide by the protections of the Privacy Act of 1974 and the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002.
But Bachmann, an ardent foe of abortion rights and Obamacare, says the law will still put personal privacy at risk, including “sensitive private health care information about whether or not you’ve been to see a psychiatrist or a counselor, or what happened between you and your doctor.”
President Obama’s speech in Maryland Thursday defending his health care overhaul from a host of GOP critics homed in on an utterance of one of his biggest detractors, Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann.
“I mean these are quotes,” Obama said. “I am not making this stuff up. And here’s one more that I’ve heard. I like this one. We have to, and I am quoting here. We have to ‘repeal this failure before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens.’ Now I have to say that that one was from six months ago. I just want to point out that we still have women. We still have children, and we still have senior citizens.”
The president was quoting a speech Bachmann gave on the House floor six months ago: “The American people, especially vulnerable women, vulnerable children, vulnerable senior citizens, now get to pay more and get less. That’s why we’re here, because we’re saying let’s repeal this failure before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens. Let’s not do that! Let’s love people, let’s care about people. Let’s repeal it now while we can.”
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Gov. Mark Dayton on Wednesday compared Minnesota's fight over child-care unionization to the national battle over the Affordable Care Act, saying conservative opponents to both programs will not accept a decision they disagree with.
In a speech before an organization of retired labor activists, and in comments afterwards, Dayton said both issues have been voted upon, challenged in court and upheld -- and yet opponents continue to battle to halt a vote on unionization and to halt the rollout of federal health care reform.
"There's no acceptance of the will of the majority, and there's no acceptance of the process of democracy, which is that you don't get your way all the time," Dayton said. "At some point you need to step aside and let things proceed."
He referred to an attempt to allow family child care providers to vote on unionization, a multi-year battle that is currently held up by an injunction. The National Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation, whose goal is to eliminate "coercive union power," is providing legal defense. Multiple legal challenges, some successful and some not, have been filed to block the vote.
"There’s a whole extreme right-wing element in this state and this country who believe they should dictate to people, 'No you don’t have that chance, to vote for yourself,' " Dayton said.
Dayton said he sees the same problem with the Affordable Care Act, which some GOP members of Congress continue to try to repeal, even linking it to a possible federal government shutdown next week. This follows Obama's first election, passage of the law in 2010, an unsuccessful U.S. Supreme Court challenge and the re-election of Obama last year, Dayton noted.
"How many more affirmations do we want before we say, we don't all agree with this, but this is the policy, we're going to support it, we're going to make it happen," he said.
When he was in the U.S. Senate in 2003, he said, he and most Democrats voted against a Medicare drug coverage bill, but then worked to put it into effect after it passed. "We had our debate, took a vote, one side prevailed," he said. "That's the way democracy is supposed to work."
He added, "But they go out, as they spend millions and millions of dollars to try to destroy the Affordable Care Act, to try to destroy the health exchange here in Minnesota, to pick up on any little glitch and dump all over it...."