Clinton Joins Trent Lott in Rejecting Health Care for Kids

By E. J. Dionne Copyright Washington Post Writers Group | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), May 26, 1997 | Go to article overview

Clinton Joins Trent Lott in Rejecting Health Care for Kids


E. J. Dionne Copyright Washington Post Writers Group, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


President Bill Clinton spilled a lot of blood, much of it his own, in trying to give health coverage to all Americans. No matter. Now, his chumminess with Senate Republican leader Trent Lott matters more than expanding health care for kids.

When Lott called Clinton demanding that the president intervene to kill a kid-care amendment to their sacred budget deal, Clinton responded, "Yessir!" Lott won, kids' health care lost.

No politician has made better political use of attacks on cigarette companies than Clinton did in his 1996 campaign. No matter. The amendment Lott wanted killed, proposed by the unlikely duo of Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., would have increased the cigarette tax by 43 cents. This pay-as-you-go proposal was structured to provide not only $20 billion for children's health care but also $10 billion for deficit reduction. Add the $20 billion to the $16 billion for kids' health care in the budget deal. t You could have covered almost all kids, especially those of the working poor. Remember them? They "work hard and play by the rules." But with the president's intervention, the cigarette companies, heavy contributors to Lott's party, got a bye. Lott must be grateful to his president. The Hatch-Kennedy measure came close to passing. At midday, supporters counted 53 votes on their side, a majority. Lott panicked. He demanded that Clinton muscle some Democrats and give Republicans cover. Clinton complied. Supporters of Hatch-Kennedy felt betrayed. The White House had sent strong signals that the president, who had endorsed their proposal, would remain neutral on this amendment and give it a chance to win. Clinton, after all, was on the record supporting it and had proposed an even bigger tobacco tax in his own health-care plan. Clinton's intervention turned the tide. At least four Democrats who support kids' health care voted with Lott, as did two or three Republicans who were close to voting the other way. The vote was narrow anyway, 55 to 45, because eight Republicans stood up to Lott in a way that Clinton refused to. …

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