On the eve of making a major announcement regarding a presidential bid, Sen. Amy Klobuchar has taken a step to shore up her position on her party’s signature piece of domestic legislation.
The Minnesota Democrat is removing her name from the list of leading co-sponsors on a bill that would delay the medical device tax that was designed to serve as revenue stream for Obamacare, according to three Senate sources. Klobuchar will still support the bill. But she will not be part of its introduction, as she has been in every Congress since the legislation was introduced.
The decision has been interpreted by at least one senior Hill aide as a subtle sign that Klobuchar is eager to modify her approach to Obamacare on the eve of launching a run for the White House. A spokesperson for the Senator did not return a request for comment.
Few lawmakers have done more to block the medical device tax than Klobuchar, whose state is home to medical device industry giants like 3M and Medtronic. Beyond introducing legislation to repeal it, she has found opportunities over the years to include suspensions of the tax in must-pass bills.
In 2015, Klobuchar took credit for slipping a temporary suspension of the tax in a year-end budget deal, and vowed to keep fighting to kill it permanently.
“Doing so will improve patients’ lives, create well-paying jobs and give Minnesota businesses the certainty and stability needed to keep researching, inventing and developing the next lifesaving medical breakthrough,” she said at the time.
The medical device tax briefly went back into effect during the recently completed government shutdown, but the resolution to reopen the government included a two-year suspension, putting the penalty on hold again until 2021. The suspension cost the federal government an estimated $3.7 billion.
If Klobuchar pushed to include that provision as part of the shutdown deal, she was silent about it. Her statements on the end of the shutdown mentioned nothing about the medical device tax.
The senator’s long history of opposing the tax is hardly unusual among lawmakers, including Democrats such as Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) as well as Sens. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who called for offsetting a medical device tax repeal with taxes on oil companies. But it has provoked anger from staunch supporters of Obamacare, who have viewed the suspension of the tax as evidence of industry being able to influence lawmakers to avoid having to contribute to Obamacare’s revenue streams. The industry has given hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to Minnesota politicians.
Klobuchar is positioning herself in the Democratic field as a left-of-center pragmatist who will prioritize stabilizing Obamacare’s individual market instead of pushing for Medicare-for-All, as some of her rivals are.