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Johanns Hopes to Repeal Health Care Provision in Lame Duck

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The Senate is scheduled to vote after Thanksgiving on legislation to repeal a small but increasingly maligned provision of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, and the Republican author of the repeal is optimistic that it will pass this time.

In a telephone interview Monday from his home state of Nebraska, Sen. Mike Johanns said the changes that he made to the legislation since its defeat in a floor vote earlier this year should address opponents’ concerns, including their suspicion that the measure’s true purpose was to undermine the health care law.

Johanns’ revised proposal, to be voted on Nov. 29 as an amendment to a food safety bill, would repeal a change in tax reporting requirements ushered in by the health care law. Even Obama has conceded that the provision is onerous on small businesses and warrants adjustment.

“I think the momentum is there,” Johanns said. “I don’t think anyone is trying to defend why this [provision] needs to be there.”

Congressional Republicans have vowed to do everything within their power to repeal the health care law after they assume control of the House and six additional Senate seats at the start of the 112th Congress in January. Johanns’ proposal might be seen by some Democrats as a way to begin that process, although the Nebraska Republican said that is not his intention.

Unlike Johanns’ previous proposal, which used funds from the health care law to cover the cost of repealing the provision, the new measure would tap unspent funds from other government programs. Johanns hopes the change garners him the Democratic votes that he needs for passage. “That was a problem before because the pay-fors came right out of the health care bill,” he said. “We’ve compromised.”

All 41 Republicans are likely to support the measure, and Johanns and his staff are actively whipping business and conservative interest groups, as well as Senate Democrats, to build public pressure and assemble the 60 votes required to overcome a possible filibuster.

Seven Democrats voted for his proposal last time: Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Sens. Mark Warner and Jim Webb of Virginia, Sen. Evan Bayh (Ind.), Sen. Michael Bennet (Colo.) and Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.)

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) led the effort to kill Johanns’ original proposal, and this time he is offering an alternative that he argues is more business friendly. Johanns conceded that the alternative — to also be offered as an amendment to the food safety bill — is essentially identical, save for a key area: The alternative is not paid for and would add to the federal deficit. For this reason, Johanns believes his proposal has a better chance of garnering Democratic votes.

“I don’t think he can convince his caucus to fall on line in adding to the debt,” Johanns said.

A Democratic Senate aide countered that Baucus’ alternative is “especially friendly to small businesses.”

“As for pay-fors, the Republican alternative would give the unelected director of Office of Management and Budget unprecedented authority to determine the source of this funding, abdicating Congressional responsibility over the budget,” the aide said. The Senate confirmed Jacob Lew as OMB director last week.

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