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.
Minnesota Republicans Erik Paulsen and John Kline have rejected Democratic calls to sign a petition to force a straight up-or-down vote in the U.S. House to reopen the federal government, now in its eighth day of shutdown.
While President Obama appealed Tuesday to “reasonable Republicans,” House Democrats have embarked on a longshot strategy to force a vote through a parliamentary maneuver called a “discharge petition.” It would require the signatures of 218 House members to override the opposition of House Speaker John Boehner and the GOP leadership.
Democrats, a minority in the House, say they could produce about 200 of the needed votes. But breaking the logjam would require another 18 or so Republicans to defy their party’s leaders, who have made blocking the implementation of the President Obama’s health care overhaul a condition of funding the government.
Kline has remained silent on the prospect of a “clean,” no-strings-attached vote on funding the government. Paulsen has said he would be willing to consider it, making him one of an estimated 20 House Republicans possibly willing to do so. (Paulsen’s stance has also drawn protests from more conservative Republicans in Minnesota).
Rep. Michele Bachmann, the only other Minnesota Republican in the House, is not on anybody’s list of wavering Republicans who might be willing to drop the GOP’s demands for defunding or delaying Obamacare.
Obama also called on Boehner Tuesday to hold a vote on reopening the goverment without conditions.
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.
The first casualties of the looming government shutdown in Washington might be Minnesota GOP House candidates in 2014 who were to have a fundraiser Sunday featuring U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, the California Republican who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
With the House likely to stay in session over the weekend to deal with a potentially climactic vote to keep the lights on in Washington, the event has been postponed.
Issa, the face of the House Republicans on Benghazi and other administration controversies, was to have been the keynote speaker at the event at the Lafayette Club in Minnetonka Beach.
The $100-$1,000 event also featured “special guest” U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., and GOP candidates for the U.S. Senate, governor, and Hennepin County Sheriff, according to an invitation obtained by the Star Tribune.
With Republicans in Washington torn over forcing a government shutdown to end Obamacare, Democrats are applying pressure on swing district lawmakers who might be persuaded to hold back from the fiscal precipice.
In Minnesota the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) launched an automated telephone campaign Tuesday aimed at Minnesota Republicans John Kline and Erik Paulsen.
The calls, going to grassroots supporters to get around the state’s “robo” call restrictions, ask Minnesotans to “stop the nonsense and focus on common sense solutions that protect our health care and grow our economy.”
It remains to be seen how far House Speaker John Boehner will go in the upcoming annual budget and debt ceiling debates to “defund” or delay implementation of the president’s signature health care law. But the Democratic robo call script warns of the dire consequences of a potential government shutdown, with its attendant consequences:
“Seniors’ Social Security checks would be up in the air and our military families couldn’t count on getting paid.”
For planning purposes, the current fiscal year ends Sept. 30, and the government is expected to max out on its debt limit in mid-October.
Update: Alleigh Marre of the National Republican Congressional Committee (RNCC) writes in with this response: "Instead of rooting for a shutdown President Obama and his political cronies should listen to the will of the American people and actually work with Republicans on solutions that will prevent ObamaCare from tanking our economy and eroding middle class families' health care."
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