GOP Pledges To Fight Tobacco Tax
House Republicans are discussing a plan to hold a vote next week on President Clinton's proposals to raise tobacco and other taxes, an attempt to force Democrats to choose between higher taxes and increased spending.
``We're going to put pressure on Democrats who are on the bubble,'' said Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va.
The move Wednesday came as the GOP leadership was struggling to pass routine spending bills without dipping into the Social Security trust fund. Clinton, too, says he wants to keep those funds safe. But unlike Republicans, he has proposed 75 tax increases totaling a net $89.7 billion over 10 years to generate the revenue needed for more spending on health, education and other areas.
Clinton's budget includes a 55-cents-a-pack cigarette tax increase, a measure closing corporate tax shelters, and a $6.6 billion reinstatement of a corporate environmental cleanup tax, among others.
Several Republican officials said the GOP leadership was confident Clinton's tax increases would be voted down on the House floor. House leaders have decided to hold the vote but have yet to determine the mechanics of bringing it to the floor.
Meanwhile, Republican and tobacco-state lawmakers pledged Wednesday to head off the proposed cigarette tax increase.
Rep. Bill Archer, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, released an analysis by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation showing that people earning less than $10,000 would see an effective 15 percent federal tax increase, compared with a 5 percent average increase for all U.S. taxpayers.
``Raising taxes to afford the extra spending the president wants is not the appropriate thing to do,'' Archer, R-Texas, told reporters. ``It hits the hardest on the poor.''
A few hours later, a bipartisan group of tobacco-state House members said they would fight any effort by Clinton or Democratic congressional leaders to use the cigarette tax to finance government spending or new programs such as Medicare prescription drugs.
``Enough is enough. That's the message the administration needs to hear,'' said Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C.
Clinton included the 55-cent tax increase in his budget proposal for fiscal 2000. It lay dormant for many months, until Democrats on Capitol Hill began touting it as a way to raise $7.8 billion next year to pay for adequate levels of government spending and simultaneously reduce unhealthy smoking.
With Clinton frequently citing the tax increase as an option in budget negotiations, opponents fear it could be included in a year-end deal. There is also a bipartisan bill in the Senate proposing higher tobacco taxes to pay for a new Medicare prescription drug benefit.
``I don't like tobacco products. I don't have tobacco growers or producers in my district,'' said Rep. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. ``I do have taxpayers in my district, and they're already paying too much in taxes.''
White House spokesman Barry Toiv, noting that a new Philip Morris Internet site finally acknowledges the health hazards of smoking, said Clinton will ``absolutely'' continue to push for the tax increase.
``Raising the price of tobacco is good health policy that will discourage young people from smoking,'' Toiv said. ``On a day that Philip Morris is admitting that smoking causes cancer, it's hard to believe that Chairman Archer still wants to protect this industry.''