Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Heated Debate Boils over in Senate Amendment Wrangling Lets Strain Show Through

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Heated Debate Boils over in Senate Amendment Wrangling Lets Strain Show Through

Article excerpt

IT LOOKED like a nasty showdown between tobacco and small business, two of the most powerful lobbies in town.

It turned out to be something less than that, but the heated debate over an amendment to the Senate tax package last week offered an unusually tight glimpse into the underlying tensions that accompanied the generally mannered debate.

The strain showed Thursday night, as an amendment offered by Sens. Christopher S. Bond, R-Mo., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., pitted party members against their own, and the corn-growing Midwest against the tobacco-rich Southeast. The measure would have allowed self-employed people a tax deduction for 100 percent of their health-insurance premiums, up from the current 40 percent. The full deduction is popular with the senators - on paper, anyway; fifty-three of them signed a letter last month saying they supported the concept. But the Senate Finance Committee didn't include it in its tax package, setting the stage for the floor fight. What made the measure especially controversial was that the bill added an 11-cents-a-pack tax on cigarettes to offset the reductions in tax revenue from the new deduction. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., saw the storm coming and asked Bond and Durbin to withdraw their amendment, saying it wasn't going to pass anyway. But the two senators, who have been put off on the issue many times, decided it was a battle they wanted to play out. "I got tired of waiting," Bond said. He called the tax deduction "a matter of fairness" for the self-employed, who he said should get the same deduction as corporations. Senators from tobacco-producing states were furious. "What's equitable about that?" fumed Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who said the tax would cost his state 2,700 jobs. "Maybe some product in your state will be next," he warned. "We are destroying an industry that has served our country for 300 years," chimed in Sen. Lauch Faircloth, R-N.C. Sen. Jesse Helms, Faircloth's Republican colleague from North Carolina, told Durbin: "Get you a monkey and an organ grinder, then you can be really funny." If the tobacco senators were trying to goad Durbin, they succeeded. …

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