The Liz-Barry Breakup

Democratic Senate candidate and Harvard professor backs away from Obama’s agenda as election draws near

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April 25, 2012

Elizabeth Warren is backing away from key components of President Barack Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment as the 2012 Massachusetts Senate election draws near.

Writing in the Massachusetts Medical Devices Journal, Warren opposed the 2.3 percent excise tax on medical device manufacturers that takes effect next year under Obamacare. When "Congress taxes the sale of a specific product, it too often disproportionately impacts the small companies with the narrowest financial margins and the broadest innovative potential," Warren wrote.

"Elizabeth believes that with an appropriate offset, we can repeal the medical device tax without cutting health care coverage for millions of people or forcing Americans to fight the whole health care battle all over again," Warren campaign spokeswoman Alethea Harney wrote in an email to the Washington Free Beacon.

The campaign of Warren’s Republican challenger, Sen. Scott Brown, released a statement criticizing Warren for "engaging in election year politics."

"After previously giving her unqualified support to the federal health care bill, Elizabeth Warren now claims she opposes the job-killing medical device tax," Brown campaign manager Jim Barnett said. "This is a clear case of election year politics. The medical device tax is a costly and job-killing proposal, but so are the other 18 taxes in the federal health care bill. Professor Warren needs to tell us why she continues to defend these other tax hikes."

Massachusetts is home to more than 400 medical device companies. The medical device industry spent $32 million lobbying Congress in the third quarter of 2011, with General Electric spending $5.7 million to again lead all companies in medical device lobbying.

Warren is not alone in her attempt to separate from Obama: Senators Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (W.V.)—both of whom are up for reelection—have also distanced themselves from the president. Sen. Ben Nelson (D., Neb.), meanwhile, will not seek re-election in 2012, a move largely credited to his for Obamacare.

Warren’s opposition to one element of Obamacare suggests that Massachusetts, long considered a heavily Democratic state, may be joining other states around the country in opposition to the president’s policies, one political analyst told the Free Beacon.

"I am not sure if there is anything unique about Massachusetts so much as that Obamacare is just broadly unpopular," political commentator Jay Cost said.

Obamacare holds 38.3 percent support in the United States, with 51.3 percent of Americans favoring its repeal, according to the March-April 2012 RealClearPolitics average of national polls.

"Figure that Obamacare is currently polling at 38 percent favorable," Cost said. "That's 15 points under what Obama polled in 2008 (53 percent). If we assume that approval is distributed proportionally across the country, take 15 points off Obama's haul in Massachusetts (62 percent) and you get 47 percent approval.

"But this is a HUGE assumption," Cost said. "It's meant to be an illustration rather than a prediction. The illustration is that if something is polling at only 38 percent nationally, it means that it is an iffy proposition even in strongly Democratic areas."

"I think the outside perception of Massachusetts has always been a bit skewed because of the people from the state who have gone on to run for national office – the Kennedys, Dukakis, John Kerry," political commentator Mike Barnicle told the Free Beacon. "The state is much more moderate than it appears to be. Everyone I know under age 35 in Massachusetts is an independent."

Warren’s op-ed was published amid Republican criticism of her fundraising efforts.

Warren received the endorsement of entertainer Harry Belafonte at an April 19 fundraiser in Manhattan. Belafonte is a supporter of the Fidel Castro regime who previously criticized President Reagan’s anti-Communist policies and called President George W. Bush "the greatest terrorist in the world" during a 2006 visit with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.

Belafonte visited Occupy Wall Street in October 2011 and announced that he was "very much supportive of and engaged with the resisters and the occupiers," adding, "I’ll do everything I can in this context to help make this rebellion pay off."

As for Occupy Wall Street, Warren declared in October 2011 that she "created the intellectual foundation for what they do."

Warren’s fundraiser was reportedly held at the penthouse of HBO executive Michael Fuchs. Actress Bette Midler attended the event.

"Harry Belafonte’s anti-American views are extreme and repugnant. He has praised Castro and Chavez, blamed the United States for the terrorist attacks that took place on 9/11 and denounced America as a villain in world affairs," Massachusetts Republican Party executive director Nate Little said in a statement.

The Massachusetts Republican Party also released a one-minute video ad criticizing Warren’s relationship with Belafonte. The ad identifies Warren’s event as a "$5,000-a-head" fundraiser.

Warren is viewed as far less likable among Massachusetts voters than her Republican opponent, Brown, according to Boston Globe polling. Warren has also recently struggled to gain local Democratic endorsements, including those of Boston mayor Thomas Menino (D) and former Boston mayor Ray Flynn (D), who endorsed Brown.

"Menino has the semblance of a political machine in Boston," Barnicle said. "So Warren might be a little hurt by Menino’s hesitation or reluctance. But her biggest problem running statewide is, ‘What’s her issue?’ She’s running on an issue—going after the big banks, going after GE for not paying as much in taxes as we do—that has tremendous appeal for editorial boards, like at the Post, the Times, the Globe. But to get out the vote in Massachusetts, she really needs to refine her message."

Warren released a new campaign ad Monday criticizing GE, a company with close ties to the Obama administration. "Washington lets big corporations like GE pay nothing—zero—in taxes while kids are left drowning in debt to get an education," Warren states in the ad.

In January 2011, Obama named GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt to head his outside panel of economic advisers. In February 2009, Obama signed the economic stimulus bill, which included $24.9 million in direct grants to GE and $20 billion in grants to companies demonstrating "meaningful use" of new medical technologies.

"People have a sense of the causes of the financial collapse," Barnicle said. "But if you go outside Boston, past the people in Cambridge with the Birkenstocks, and you start talking to Route 9 people, once you get past Route 94 east. You ask those people about banks and they say, ‘A bank is an ATM machine.’ And unlike government, it actually works.

"Scott Brown gives people a sense that he is more in touch with the way they live," Barnicle said.