The "repeal ObamaCare" movement may be near death, but smaller attacks on the law are hardly over.
On Thursday, the Senate passed an amendment to a pending budget bill that would repeal one of the Affordable Care Act's taxes (in this case, on medical devices). But unlike past efforts to undo the law, this one had the broad blessing of Democratic lawmakers.
The tax, a 2.3 percent levy that was projected to raise $30 billion over 10 years to fund aspects of the ACA, was deeply unpopular with lawmakers from both parties, particularly those from states where medical device companies are based. For instance, Minnesota's Amy Klobuchar (D) said her state was home to 400 medical device companies that would be harmed by the tax.
The Senate overwhelmingly approved the repeal measure by a 79-20 vote, with senators as varied as Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) endorsing it. All told, 34 Democrats joined Republicans in voting for repeal.
Originally, the tax was not supposed to be so controversial. Here's the American Prospect's Jamelle Bouie, writing in the Washington Post:
By rooting health care reform within the private sector, the Affordable Care Act is something of a huge subsidy to hospitals, health insurance companies, pharmaceuticals, and device manufacturers.
In expanding health coverage to 27 million more Americans, ObamaCare will generate new demand for medical services, and increase revenue for most stakeholders, including device manufacturers. The excise tax is meant to capture some of that value, and direct it to new services. [Washington Post]
And to be clear, Democrats didn't actually defund ObamaCare. The repeal vote was merely symbolic. The Senate passed an amendment to a non-binding budget approved earlier this week by House Republicans, but that budget has virtually no chance of passing the Democratic-led Senate.
Though the tax repeal apparently has enough support to pass as a standalone measure, that route seems doubtful. As Politico's Jennifer Haberkorn points out, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who has final say on what comes up for votes, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mt.), whose committee wrote the tax, both voted against repeal.
Still, the vote gave Democrats like Klobuchar the ability to tell constituents they voted against an unpopular ObamaCare tax. More than that, it also showed that while Democrats generally support the law as a whole, they're willing to rebuff the White House on the law's finer points. From the Washington Times' Tom Howell Jr.:
As part of debate over the spending blueprint, the vote does not have the force of law. However, it showed that economic forces in Democrats’ home states hold enough sway for senators to turn against specific provisions within the Affordable Care Act. [Washington Times]
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