Killing Medical Device Tax Can Save Face for Republicans

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
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The medical-device industry stands to gain as much as $30 billion if the current budget and debt-ceiling struggles in Washington are resolved.

There's a political consensus that if there's a deal -- and none is in sight yet -- it won't directly involve the Affordable Care Act; the White House has dug in its heels on that.

But as a face-saving concession, the Republicans probably would get an agreement for a separate vote on removing the medical-device tax part of Obamacare.

Unlike with central components of Obamacare such as the individual mandate, the administration and congressional Democratic leaders may be willing to budge on a deal that replaces the medical-device tax, which raises about $3 billion per year over the next decade.

Both sides know the politics; even a number of Senate Democrats, such as Minnesota's Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, would vote to end the tax. Both are liberal supporters of Obamacare, but one of the biggest employers in Minnesota is Medtronic Inc., the largest U.S. maker of medical technology devices, including surgical equipment, stents, heart valves and catheters.

The medical-device industry, which many analysts believe would make more money with expanded health-care benefits than it would lose from the tax, has waged an effective lobbying campaign to repeal the levy.

That's much more likely to happen, however, if there's some sort of sort budget-debt deal.

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Albert R Hunt at