Could a Democratic Concession on the Medical-Device Tax Let Republicans Save Face?

Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash.
National Journal
Stacy Kaper
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Stacy Kaper
Oct. 2, 2013, 10:05 a.m.

Rep. Jim Mc­Der­mott, D-Wash., said Demo­crats are strug­gling to find a way to let Re­pub­lic­ans save face and end the gov­ern­ment shut­down, and he sug­ges­ted that a solu­tion could be a con­ces­sion on the med­ic­al-device tax, which the Re­pub­lic­ans want to re­peal.

Mc­Der­mott, the rank­ing mem­ber on the Ways and Means Com­mit­tee Health Sub­com­mit­tee, told Na­tion­al Journ­al in an in­ter­view Wed­nes­day that he is con­cerned that Re­pub­lic­ans are con­tent to con­tin­ue the shut­down un­til the debt ceil­ing hits its lim­it in mid-Oc­to­ber and drives up the eco­nom­ic stakes.

“I call it go­ing on Cruz con­trol,” Mc­Der­mott said, re­fer­ring to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who is seen as fo­ment­ing shut­down fur­or. “He’s got us go­ing in a way that we are go­ing to go spin­ning down to the debt lim­it, and at that point I don’t know what hap­pens,” Mc­Der­mott said.

“My feel­ing is that we may go in­to all of that for a couple of days un­til the bond mar­kets start — and then some folks who are in the moneyed class in this coun­try say, ‘What in the hell is go­ing on? Stop this.’ “

Mc­Der­mott, a former psy­chi­at­rist, said that in con­ver­sa­tions in the House gym he has tried to un­der­stand the way his con­ser­vat­ive col­leagues see the en­dgame.

“They think that some­how it is go­ing to work out in two weeks when they get to the debt lim­it, then they’ll fi­nally have enough pres­sure, that they can get the pres­id­ent to cave,” he said.

Demo­crats are quick to pooh-pooh this strategy but the pro­spect is clearly dis­con­cert­ing.

Mc­Der­mott said that in polit­ics, when your op­pon­ent has a los­ing po­s­i­tion, the trick is to find a way to let him save face — which is something con­found­ing Demo­crats now.

“The old rule in the Chica­go play­ground was, when you’ve got your foot on some­body’s neck, don’t press, be­cause you might be on the ground some­time and you don’t want him to press on you.”

Mc­Der­mott said the game is the same on Cap­it­ol Hill. “What we are strug­gling with now is find­ing a face-sav­ing way of let­ting these guys get out of an im­possible situ­ation,” he said laugh­ing. “How do I let you lose so you don’t look like a fool?”

Mc­Der­mott sug­ges­ted a con­ces­sion on the med­ic­al-device tax used to off­set some of the cost of the Af­ford­able Care Act could be one op­tion to pur­sue.

“Does the tax on devices get rid of that? Is that the face-saver?” he pos­ited. “It could. It blows a $40-bil­lion hole in the fund­ing of the Af­ford­able Care Act, so I mean you could look at that a lot of dif­fer­ent ways. You could say, ‘Well, all right, that was the Sen­ate’s idea. House mem­bers, Demo­crats, nev­er thought it was a good idea in the first place.’ But there are a lot of dif­fer­ent ways to talk about that, so maybe that is the face-saver.”

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