Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Senate Says No to Increase in Cigarette Tax for Health Care House Approves Outline of Budget Agreement

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Senate Says No to Increase in Cigarette Tax for Health Care House Approves Outline of Budget Agreement

Article excerpt

The Senate rejected an effort Wednesday to increase spending for children's health care and pay for it with higher cigarette taxes.

Senators took the action after the White House and top Republicans said it would puncture their bipartisan balanced budget agreement.

The proposal marked the second time in hours that efforts to rearrange the budget compromise were threatening to start fraying it. At 3 a.m. Wednesday, the House rejected a furious effort to pump road-building money into the deal by a vote of just 216-214, before overwhelmingly approving an outline of the agreement by 333-99. Only 76 of the 204 Democrats who voted joined House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., in opposing the resolution. Gephardt announced Tuesday that he opposes the deal. But he knew he would not carry the day among Democrats and did not lobby them. The only lawmaker from Missouri or Southern Illinois to join Gephardt was Rep. William L. Clay, D-St. Louis. After seven hours of debate and behind-the-scenes maneuvering in the Senate, leaders finally found the votes they needed and killed the effort to alter the budget pact on a 55-45 roll call. It was the sternest challenge so far to the accord between President Bill Clinton and congressional leaders, which is aimed at eliminating deficits by 2002 while cutting taxes by a net of $85 billion. Shortly before the vote, Mike McCurry, the White House press secretary, telegraphed the amendment's defeat by saying that Clinton supported its thrust but not at the expense of the hard-won budget deal. "It stands encumbering the balanced budget agreement that we also fought very hard for," McCurry said. "The president is not about to see all that hard work go down the drain." Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., had warned repeatedly that he would pull an outline of the accord off the Senate floor if the changes were approved. "This is clearly a deal-buster," Lott said. Lott said he telephoned Erskine Bowles, the White House chief of staff, on Wednesday morning to seek administration support in defeating the amendment. …

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