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House Dems vote to erase levy in health law

| Thursday, June 18, 2015, 9:21 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The House defied a White House veto threat and voted Thursday to abolish a tax on medical device makers as a group of Democrats uncharacteristically joined Republicans in moving to kill part of President Obama's health care law.

The 280-140 House vote was exactly the two-thirds margin that supporters would need to override a presidential veto.

The suspense will be in the Senate, which voted overwhelmingly to repeal the levy in 2013, but in a nonbinding roll call lacking the political pressures of a veto showdown.

The Republican-led House has voted more than 50 times since 2011 to void all or part of Obama's health care overhaul, usually along party lines. On Thursday, Republicans were joined by 46 Democrats from states where medical devices are made to erase the 2.3 percent tax.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said he hopes the bill's bipartisan support “will make the president reconsider.”

The vote occurred as lawmakers prepare for a Supreme Court decision as soon as next week that could remove a more vital piece of the 2010 health care law — federal subsidies that help millions of Americans buy coverage. Eliminating that aid would have a far greater impact than ending the medical device tax.

The tax on medical devices took effect two years ago and was designed to help pay for the health care overhaul, which has expanded coverage for millions of people. It is imposed on equipment like artificial hearts and X-ray machines, but not items used by individuals like eyeglasses, wheelchairs or blood glucose monitors.

Opponents of the repeal effort say taxes the law imposed on many branches of the health care industry were outweighed by millions of new customers the law produced. They object to the idea of financing the $24 billion, 10-year cost of repeal with bigger federal deficits.

In its letter threatening a veto, the White House said repeal would “provide a large tax break to profitable corporations” and cut money for “financial assistance that is working to improve coverage and affordability” of health care.

Repeal supporters say the tax drives up companies' expenses, costs jobs and stifles research. They named the bill the “Protect Medical Innovation Act.”

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