After the Democrats passed Obamacare without a single Republican vote, Republicans generally (and wisely) united around the notion that they shouldn’t pursue partial repeal or “fixes” to Obamacare. Rather than willingly giving Obamacare a newly bipartisan sheen, they publicly committed to repealing it in full. (The only exception to this partial-repeal moratorium was supposed to be in cases, like with Obamacare’s individual mandate or insurer bailout, where partial repeal would weaken Obamacare and thus advance the cause of repeal.)
The party’s focus on repealing and replacing Obamacare has clearly served it well while reflecting public sentiment. Since Obamacare’s passage, Republican membership has increased by more than 30 percent in the Senate and nearly 40 percent in the House. These are massive, historic, Obamacare-driven gains.
But what happens when Republicans’ desire to repeal and replace Obamacare collides with their desire to provide relief to a particular deep-pocketed corporate interest? You guessed it: the latter wins — in a landslide. On Thursday, the House passed legislation to repeal Obamacare’s medical device tax, 280-140. Among Republicans, the vote was 234-0.
This result can hardly be attributed to Republican members’ phones ringing off the hook with calls from everyday constituents who simply loathe the medical device tax. In truth, the tax is a part of Obamacare that most Americans have likely never even heard of. But the medical-device-tax lobby is willing to throw around a lot of money — which, of course, is all the more reason to make sure that this money gets channeled toward the cause of full repeal.
The bill in question now moves to the Senate, where one hopes Republicans will prioritize the cause of repeal over the desires of a particular GOP-friendly (for now) industry.
Writing at The Hill, Heather Higgins and Hadley Heath Manning of Independent Women’s Voice lay out the issue well, arguing that Republicans should suspend the tax, not repeal it:
“This year, the priority should be to pass a moratorium on the medical device tax that would last until 2017….A moratorium would spare the medical device industry from immediate and near-term financial harm, while preserving the important policy principle that no special interest should jump ahead in line and be permanently out from under ObamaCare while the law exists.”
They write that repealing, rather than suspending, the tax invites “three self-inflicted wounds”:
“First, doing so impairs the likelihood of repealing and replacing ObamaCare come 2017. Repeal/replace has no deep-pocketed industry allies outside of the medical device industry….
“Second, Republicans will create a terrible precedent for providing special relief to individual corporate interests….
“Third, attending to these corporate interests will send precisely the wrong message to Americans about the seriousness of the GOP about achieving repeal, or about caring about people like them.”
Higgins and Manning conclude that Republicans should embrace “a strategy that not only works in the short-term to help just one important constituency, but which helps them without undermining the long-term cause of undoing the most damaging law in history for all Americans.”
Here’s one final thought: If King v. Burwell goes against the Obama administration, don’t be surprised if congressional Republicans look to made a deal with President Obama — offering to turn Obamacare’s taxpayer-financed, abortion-funding subsidies back on in exchange for (you guessed it) Obama’s willingness to repeal the medical device tax.
Jeffrey H. Anderson is executive director of the 2017 Project, which is working to advance a conservative reform agenda, including a winning alternative to Obamacare.