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House Panel Blocks Tobacco Tax Hike Money Would Have Gone Toward Uninsured Children’s Health Care

The tobacco industry, battered by pressure from government agencies, lawsuits filed by 37 states and calls for federal regulation of nicotine, nevertheless continues to succeed on Capitol Hill.

In two votes late Thursday night, two amendments that would have increased taxes on tobacco products were beaten back in the House Ways and Means Committee, which was working on a package of taxes needed to implement the balanced-budget agreement between the Clinton administration and congressional Republicans.

The amendments, offered by Republican Nancy L. Johnson of Connecticut and Democrat Pete Stark of California, would have used the tobacco tax revenue to pay for health care coverage for uninsured children. The Johnson amendment was defeated on a voice vote. Stark asked for a recorded vote on his amendment, which went down 25-13, with one member not voting.

Campaign contributions were never mentioned, of course, as the committee members debated the impact of a tax increase on the budget deal, the importance of insuring children, and the economic and health costs of smoking.

But when the final vote was taken, the impact of campaign money was evident.

During the 1995-96 election cycle, political action committees representing the tobacco industry contributed $178,600 to the 25 representatives who voted against the tobacco tax increase - an average of $7,144 per member. That was nearly 5-1/2 times as much as the $1,308 that the 13 supporters of the tax averaged from tobacco PACs.

This is the second time in recent weeks that the tobacco industry has defeated efforts to increase cigarette taxes to pay for children’s health insurance.

A proposal by Sens. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, and Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., to raise $20 billion for children’s insurance and $10 billion for deficit reduction with a 43-cent-a-pack cigarette tax lost in the Senate at the end of May.

As was the case on Thursday night, the arguments against the Hatch-Kennedy proposal revolved around preserving the budget deal between President Clinton and the Republicans. But the correspondence between tobacco PAC contributions and votes on the cigarette tax was strong.

The 55 senators who voted against the Hatch-Kennedy proposal to increase the cigarette tax got three times more money, on average, from tobacco PACs than the 45 senators who voted in favor of the cigarette tax.

Although these attempts to raise cigarette taxes failed in the Senate and House, the proponents of using a tobacco excise tax to pay for children’s health insurance vow to continue the fight.

The tobacco industry’s ability to defeat a proposal as politically appealing as improved health care for America’s children is an indication of the clout that campaign money provides.

In the 1995-96 election cycle PACs representing tobacco companies and industry trade associations contributed a total of $3.2 million to congressional and presidential candidates.

The industry contributed an additional $6.3 million to the national parties for the 1996 elections.

xxxx BIG DONORS During the 1995-96 election cycle, tobacco PACS contributed $178,600 to the 25 representatives who voted against the tobacco tax increase an average of $7,144 per member.


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