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Health Law Tax Foes Find Hope in Overhaul Effort

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Camp is among the members of Congress working on a comprehensive tax overhaul.

If hundreds of comments are any indication, everyone has ideas about what a House committee should include in its tax overhaul package.

From Starbucks to the Girl Scouts, a variety of groups and individuals have passed along requests to the 11 bipartisan working groups created by the Ways and Means Committee. And with Democrats controlling the Senate and the White House, the process will need to stay bipartisan if there’s any hope of getting a tax overhaul enacted before the end of the 113th Congress.

But that hasn’t stopped opponents of provisions intended to help pay for the health care law from pushing to include their specific repeal efforts in the tax package. As long as House Republicans are hesitant to send individual revenue bills to the Senate — the thinking is that Democrats could change them to reflect their own policy priorities — broader tax legislation may be a way to get around that.

“I don’t see any tax bills moving through the Ways and Means Committee until we actually do the big tax reform package, so that will be the first vehicle moving,” Louisiana Republican Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight, said last week. “I think all tax matters will likely be addressed in a big reform package.”

Proponents of doing away with provisions such as the medical-device tax and the annual fee on health insurance companies say they already have bipartisan support for their repeal legislation. But the efforts still will face health care politics and the need for significant offsets, making their inclusion far from certain as lawmakers work toward comprehensive tax legislation that can pass in both chambers.

“While we are from different political parties, we agree that America’s tax code is broken,” Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., wrote in The Wall Street Journal this month. “That is why we have been working together as the chairmen of Congress’s two-tax writing committees to make it fairer for families and spark a more prosperous economy.”

Device Tax Debate

Of the various taxes included in the health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152), the one that may have the strongest momentum for repeal is the 2.3 percent excise tax on medical devices.

Seventy-nine senators, including 33 Democrats and Maine independent Angus King, voted last month to abolish the tax as an amendment to the nonbinding fiscal 2014 budget resolution (S Con Res 8). Opponents hailed the vote as a sign that bipartisan majorities in both chambers support repealing the provision, and they pushed for Congress to move forward with binding legislation. While the House passed a measure to repeal the tax last year, the Senate never took it up.

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