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Bipartisan Legislation Still Going Nowhere in Harry Reid’s Senate

Last week I wrote about the need to fix Obamacare in the event the legislation cannot be repealed. Since Obamacare is unpopular, there would seem to be plenty of common ground on which Republicans and Democrats could meet to mitigate some of the damage the bill is set to do to the economy and the health sector. That’s not speculation or wishful thinking: Democrats have already gone on record as willing to repeal certain parts of the law, and the Senate recently passed a symbolic nonbinding resolution expressing support for repealing the medical device tax by a 79-20 margin.

The medical device tax will harm both innovation and the health-sector job market, and Democrats representing states that will be hurt by this, like Minnesota’s Al Franken, have led the charge to get rid of the tax. Republicans are happy to have located a tax cut that could pass both houses of Congress, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has reportedly begun encouraging House Republicans to take up such legislation. The resulting bill would represent a win for common sense and a boon to those frustrated by the gridlocked nature of divided government by uniting most of Congress to fix an unpopular provision of an unpopular law. But as you might expect, there is a familiar problem: Harry Reid. David Drucker reports:

So, why wouldn’t these House Republicans be eager to run a tax reduction bill that would ding Obamacare, surely pass their chamber and force some vulnerable Senate Democrats to choose between taking another whack at the Affordable Care Act or protecting the law at the potential cost of electoral peril? To begin with, they don’t trust Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

Additionally, some House Republicans fear, legitimately, that Reid might gut and amend the bill, turning it into a Democratic shopping cart full of tax increases. Constitutionally, tax measures must start in the House, but there’s nothing preventing Reid from stripping and replacing a tax bill’s contents. Or, Reid could keep the medical device tax repeal but load up the legislation with enough revenue raising poison pills to either sink it or turn the tables on Republicans by forcing them to vote on legislation with politically uncomfortable measures.

Reid, the champion of partisan obstruction, has by now so distorted the normal democratic process and the traditional actions of the Senate that no one trusts him. Repealing the device tax should be an open-and-shut case. But you can’t just hand Reid a bill, because he’ll make sure it does the opposite of its intent.

As I’ve previously written, Reid has become a master at manipulating Senate procedure to rig the amendment process and shut the Republicans out of legislating. Reid benefits from a mostly compliant press, which has gladly pushed the line that Republicans are the primary source of obstruction in the Senate, a false narrative that has contributed to Democrats’ refusal for years to fulfill even basic Senate responsibilities.

So is there a way, in the age of Harry Reid, to still get broadly bipartisan, popular, and commonsense legislation through Congress? Republicans in the House think there is. Drucker explains:

[Ways and Means Chairman Dave] Camp and those who agree with him are committed to pushing through the repeal as a part of comprehensive tax reform legislation, which the Ways and Means panel is in the process of writing.

“The chairman is focused on tax reform and supports repeal of the medical device tax. He is committed to repealing the tax in tax reform,” a Camp aide told CQ Roll Call on Wednesday.

Broad reform efforts are more difficult to pass than piecemeal legislation, which is exactly the problem that proponents of immigration reform have run into. Additionally, as Politico reported this week, the pro-tax reform coalition has begun to fray, further dimming its chances.

It’s possible, however, that the inclusion of repealing the device tax will make a larger tax reform bill more attractive to all parties, since the repeal is popular and might help garner support from the business community, which is seen as essential to the prospects for tax reform. But the extra effort it will take to get the tax repeal to the Senate floor shows some of the institutional damage Reid has inflicted upon the Senate in his time as majority leader.



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