TOBACCO: Senate Rejects $1.50 Per Pack Tax Hike
In a 58-40 vote, senators rejected a proposal to raise the per-pack cigarette tax under Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) settlement bill to $1.50. The Raleigh News & Observer notes that the vote "left intact a smaller increase of $1.10 a pack favored" by McCain. Thirteen Democrats joined 45 Republicans in voting against the higher tax. One Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, said she feared the $1.50 rate on top of local and state cigarette taxes "would fuel a black market." She said, "We need to make certain that we don't increase the price of cigarettes so high that it becomes lucrative for smugglers and organized crime to become involved in cigarette smuggling so that, like cocaine, cheap black-market cigarettes will be available on street corners all over our country" (Rosen, 5/21).
The Houston Chronicle reports that "a group of conservative senators, led by Sen. John Ashcroft (R-MO)," led the opposition to the $1.50 tax hike, "argu[ing] that the tax was merely an excuse to raise revenue and would disproportionately hurt low-income people" (Roth, 5/21). But Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), the lead sponsor of the higher cigarette tax, "responded that GOP conservatives traditionally have shown little interest in helping the needy and were falsely assuming that poor families would not favor higher cigarette prices to discourage their children from smoking" (Hohler, Boston Globe, 5/21). Kennedy said, "How elitist and arrogant it is for those voices on the other side to cry these crocodile tears about working families" (News & Observer, 5/21). The Houston Chronicle reports that an amendment offered by Ashcroft to strip all taxes from the McCain bill "was defeated 72-26" (5/21).
A Word From The President
"Flanked by Vice President Gore and Olympic figure skating star Tara Lipinski," President Clinton appeared at a White House anti-smoking rally to urge Congress to pass the McCain bill. He said, "This bill is our best chance to protect the health of our children, to keep them from getting hooked on cigarettes ever." But the Washington Post reports the former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop "yesterday accused the White House of 'cowardice' for failing to lobby for the $1.50 increase" in the cigarette tax (Torry, 5/21).
Next On The Agenda
Following the defeat of the $1.50 tax hike, the New York Times reports that the Senate "turned to a proposal to remove from the legislation all legal protections for the tobacco industry," with a vote on the measure "expected" today. But the Times notes that it "was unclear" yesterday "whether the Senate would be able to complete work on the legislation this week or would put off a final vote until next month, after Congress returns from a Memorial Day recess" (Rosenbaum, 5/21). From an editorial in today's Washington Post: "The longer the Senate takes to finish the bill, the longer it will apparently be before the House begins to get its fragmented act together" (5/21).
Save The Farmers!
In his remarks endorsing the McCain bill, President Clinton said he is "deeply troubled by the Senate leadership's" decision to strip Sen. Wendell Ford's (D-KY) proposal to aid tobacco farmers who will be impacted by reduced cigarette consumption. Last Friday, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) removed the Ford provisions from the bill and replaced them with Sen. Richard Lugar's (R-IN) plan, which would effectively end the tobacco quota and price support programs. The Winston-Salem Journal reports that "White House officials characterized the Lugar plan as the chief threat to Clinton's support for" the McCain bill. White House press secretary Mike McCurry said, "We are concerned that the effect of the Lugar program would be to skew the benefits of assistance away from the small farmers and small communities that most need help" (Hoeffel, 5/21). The Richmond Times-Dispatch notes that "Ford's plan would keep the federal program for those who continue growing the crop," and it "would provide $28.5 billion over 25 years for buyouts of tobacco quotas, to assist displaced workers and aid hard-hit rural communities" (Hardin, 5/21).
The PR War
Today's Philadelphia Inquirer looks at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's advertising campaign opposing the McCain bill. The ads blast private attorneys who stand to benefit from the tobacco legislation and "raise the point that lower-income smokers will be hit harder by Congress' proposed cigarette-tax increase" (Mishra, 5/21).