Obama tells Senate GOP he's willing to talk ObamaCare changes
By Peter Schroeder and Bernie Becker - 10/11/13 03:14 PM ET
Senate Republicans emerged from a lengthy meeting at the White House Thursday saying the president had indicated he was at least willing to talk about changes to his signature healthcare reform law.
The government was shut down for the first time in 17 years when Republicans pushed to stifle ObamaCare, but GOP lawmakers in the Senate believe changes around the edges are still possible.
"He's not one to think the Affordable Care Act is a perfect bill, and if we could come up with ideas that he thinks have merit, he would certainly consider them," said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction of Medicare, Medicaid and other key health programs.
Among areas the president indicated a willingness to talk about are a repeal of the medical device tax, a proposal with bipartisan support, and how full-time versus part-time employment are defined in the law, which could provide relief to some businesses.
Hatch said Obama admitted that the medical device tax, which brought in $30 billion in revenue but is not essential to the law's function, was not a key piece of the overhaul.
"He acknowledged that the medical device tax is not a part of the core bill, which is the understatement of the meeting," said Hatch.
That said, Hatch added that “I didn’t get the idea that he was going to lead any charge” on repeal.
A plan from Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) to raise the debt limit and reopen the government would roll back the medical device tax. Collins’s plan would offset the lost revenue with a pension smoothing provision.
When she presented her plan to the president, Collins said he heard her out, but stopped well short of endorsing it.
"The president, I should be clear, did not say, 'What a great idea!'"
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said that Obama was cagey on what he’d be willing to discuss when it came to healthcare, in part because of the ongoing negotiations with the House.
But, he added, “I’m encouraged by the attitude that’s been displayed.”
In fact, McCain said he expects the White House could agree to some change to the medical device tax in any deal on the debt limit or government funding.
“I don’t know if it’s a repeal, or a delay, or instead based on profits or something like that,” the Arizona Republican said.
Obama has said publicly that he’s willing to discuss his signature healthcare law and an array of other long-term budget issues. But the president, and Senate Democrats, had previously said those discussions should be kept separate from the debt ceiling and government funding.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said the president told Republicans was open to changes to ObamaCare, but not while the government remained shut and the debt-ceiling unresolved.
“He said there’s individual things could improve the act, not gut it, that he’d look at, but obviously not in this context,” Flake said.
The Senate did overwhelmingly pass an amendment to repeal the medical device tax as part of its nonbinding budget resolution. But Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) were among the 20 senators to oppose that measure.
Backers of the tax say that the healthcare law will be a boon to the medical device industry, with expanding insurance rolls leading to expanded profits for the sector.