Senate Republicans who won a majority because of Obamacare anger now seem ready put business lobbyists ahead of voters in tackling the Affordable Care Act. Medical device makers have put millions into lobbying for ACA tax relief. But putting the pleas of medical device makers for Obamacare tax relief ahead of the pleas of the voters who returned Republicans to a Senate majority would be a mistake. A big one.
The mid-term elections saw more Obamacare themed ads than any other issue. Voters responded by giving Republicans back the Senate. Taken together with voluntary departures, half the Senators who voted for Obamacare didn’t return this session. But will voters’ judgment now translate into legislative relief?
While most agree that full repeal will have to wait on a new president, many believe that chastened Democrats might cross the aisle to eliminate or simply delay some wildly unpopular parts of Obamacare. At the top of the list for average Americans who are paying more and getting less is the individual mandate along with its tax penalties and the federal requirement to buy expensive coverage.
But a determined push by business lobbyists has produced a stand-alone Senate budget measure to not just delay a tax on medical device makers, which would make sense, but to repeal it in its entirety. This singular treatment by Senate budget drafters to repeal an Obamacare tax on one business concern would seem to move medical device-makers to the front of the anti-Obamacare line. Now the industry that never fought against Obamacare’s passage is poised to get the first legislative relief from the law while voters who remain angry that they are paying the price have to wait.
Precedent is about to be set here. Other industries, including insurance companies, are already pushing for their preferred piece of tax relief, furiously making donations to various interest groups to promote their efforts.
Yes, the device-makers have a legitimate beef. The new tax will raise $29 billion over ten years and is based on sales, not profits. The industry has spent more than $30 million since 2010 trying to overturn the tax in its entirety. Apparently sympathetic to their pleas are Democrat Senators such as Elizabeth Warren, Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar who have large and vocal medical device-making companies in their blue states. Some Republicans have joined them.
But what would repeal of this tax say to the Republican and independent voters who returned Republicans to the Senate majority and who punished Democratic candidates for their support of the Affordable Care Act? It would say that Republican legislators have more sympathy for favorite business concerns than their voters who hate the law. It would say that lobbyists will always trump average Americans in the halls and back offices of Congress.
The better strategy for those who are serious about repeal and replace, is to insist that repeal needs apply broadly, while the interim remedy for specific industries such as medical device makers would be a delay of the tax that has caused job loses and which has slowed business growth. Such a delay says, “Yes, we want to help you, and will help you, but we also look forward to your help in the team effort of making repeal happen for everyone, even average Americans who can’t afford lobbyists.”
Both House and Senate Republican budgets will incorporate full ObamaCare repeal in their assumptions. But singling out one industry for special relief may do more harm than good, not least by telling voters that the legitimate beef they suffer is just not as important to Republicans as well-connected businesses who have Democrats in their corner. That would be a short-sighted mistake. A big one.
Ken Hoagland author raised and delivered 2.2 million petitions to repeal Obamacare and is a long time grassroots advocate.