Senators back 4rise in cigarette tax It may have enough votes

8 GOP

$20 billion in revenues to go for child health care

April 09, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Eight Senate Republicans, including three committee chairmen, lined up yesterday behind legislation that would raise cigarette taxes to pay for health insurance for children now uninsured, giving a striking boost to the bill's prospects.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, the Utah Republican who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee, recruited seven others from his party to co-sponsor the bill, which he introduced yesterday with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat.

The measure would increase the federal cigarette tax to 67 cents a pack, from the current 24 cents, yielding $20 billion a year in grants to states so that they could provide insurance for children whose low-income working parents do not qualify for Medicaid.

At Hatch's insistence, an additional $10 billion a year to be generated by the tax increase would go to deficit reduction.

Both Hatch and Kennedy said a major benefit of the tax increase was that it would discourage teens from smoking. They cited a study by Frank Chaloupka of the University of Illinois that found that every 10 percent increase in cigarette prices cut teen-age smoking by 7 percent. They estimated that their proposed 43-cent increase in a pack of cigarettes would lower teen-age smoking by 15.7 percent.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi appeared annoyed by Hatch's recruitment of Republican co-sponsors for a measure to raise taxes, and said Republicans would find another solution to the problem of uninsured children, perhaps tax credits or tax-advantaged medical savings accounts.

"This is not last year," Lott said, "and a Kennedy big-government program is not going to be enacted."

But Hatch told a news conference that the bill should not require any additional federal bureaucrats, since the government already collects cigarette taxes and since the new money in grants for the states would be distributed under the Medicaid formula.

"This bill will not create a huge new federal bureaucracy, as described by some," he said.

Although the legislation will not come to a vote for months, the endorsement by eight Republicans suggests that it may have the support to pass, since only two of the Senate's 45 Democrats come from tobacco states.

If the 43 other Democrats vote for the bill, along with the eight Republicans, the bill will have a majority. Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the Senate Democratic leader, said the Republican backing gave the bill "a jump-start."

Kennedy went shopping for Republican support early this year, with a proposal for a 75-cent-a-pack increase in the federal tax on cigarettes. When Hatch agreed to the approach, they negotiated the tax down and put aside a third of the revenue for deficit reduction.

Pub Date: 4/09/97

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