Dems to make low-income nicotine addicts pay for health care bill

Democrats, who wrote the legislation and provided most of its votes, generally portray themselves as champions of the poor. They do not dispute that the tax plan would hit poor communities disproportionately, but they say it is worth it.

Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., who spoke against the bill in last week’s debate, said: “The headline ought to read, ‘Smokers in America to pay for middle-class welfare.'”

Associated Press | Sep 30, 2007

By CHARLES BABINGTON

WASHINGTON – Congressional Democrats have chosen an unlikely source to pay for the bulk of their proposed $35 billion increase in children’s health coverage: people with relatively little money and education.

The program expansion passed by the House and Senate last week would be financed with a 156 percent increase in the federal cigarette tax, taking it to $1 per pack from the current 39 cents. Low-income people smoke more heavily than do wealthier people in the United States, making cigarette taxes a regressive form of revenue.

Democrats, who wrote the legislation and provided most of its votes, generally portray themselves as champions of the poor. They do not dispute that the tax plan would hit poor communities disproportionately, but they say it is worth it to provide health insurance to millions of modest-income children.

All the better, they say, if higher cigarette taxes discourage smoking.

“I’m very happy that we’re paying for this,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in an interview Friday, noting that the plan would not add to the deficit. “The health of the children is extremely important,” he said. “In the long run, maybe it’ll stop people from smoking.”

Congress probably will revisit the cigarette tax issue soon because President Bush has pledged to veto the proposed $35 billion expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. The decade-old program helps families buy medical coverage if their income is too high to qualify for Medicaid.

Bush has proposed a more modest growth for the program, and both political parties seem inclined to pay for it through a tax on an unpopular group, cigarette smokers.

By most measures, the average smoker is less privileged than the average nonsmoker. Nearly one-third of all U.S. adults living in poverty are smokers, compared with 23.5 percent of those above the poverty level, according to government statistics.

The American Heart Association reports that 35 percent of people with no more than 11 years of schooling are smokers. Those with 16 or more years of formal education smoke at a 12 percent rate.

Non-Hispanic black men smoke at slightly higher rates than do non-Hispanic white men. But the reverse is true among women.

The demographics of smoking and taxation received scant attention during last week’s House and Senate debates, perhaps because many Democrats and Republicans agree that cigarettes are the best target for tax increase if the insurance program were to grow. A few lawmakers, however, took a swing.

“I know there is very little sympathy for smokers these days,” Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., said during the House debate. “But it is still a tax increase on the backs of the smokers. And in order to get enough money to pay for this, it would require 22 million new smokers.”

Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., defended putting the burden of expanded medical care on smokers.

“The tobacco tax is a great way to pay for it,” he said, “because if you tax people who are smoking and they smoke less, then we have less health problems.”

Rep. Jim McCrery, R-La., did not buy that logic. “To propose funding a growing program with a declining revenue source is, I would submit, irresponsible fiscal policy,” he said.

If the federal cigarette tax nears $1 per pack, smokers in many states will pay hefty sums into government coffers unless they kick their habit. On top of the federal tax, New Jersey levies a $2.57 per pack tax on cigarettes, followed by Rhode Island at $2.46.

California is near the middle, at 87 cents a pack. Three states tax cigarettes at less than 30 cents per pack. South Carolina is the lowest at 7 cents.

Bill Phelps, spokesman for Philip Morris USA, based in Richmond, Va., said a steep federal tax increase could accelerate the national decline in smoking to the point that the insurance would have to find other revenue sources.

The average U.S. price of a pack of cigarettes has risen by 80 cents since 1999, Phelps said, largely because of state tax increases. State and federal governments received more than $21 billion in cigarette excise taxes in the 2006 budget year, he said, “so we think this trend is unfair to adults who smoke and to retailers who sell tobacco products.”

In Congress, these groups receive little sympathy. But some lawmakers say voters should know the details of the insurance program’s proposed funding structure.

Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., who spoke against the bill in last week’s debate, said: “The headline ought to read, ‘Smokers in America to pay for middle-class welfare.'”

Advertisements

5 responses to “Dems to make low-income nicotine addicts pay for health care bill

  1. The bottom line is this country cares more about people who SMOKE – then children whose parents probably work jobs that don’t pay much but WORK HARD and yet can’t afford health care – like most of low income america.

    I honestly could care less if smokers have to pay more. They can quit. I’ve seen it done by people close to me. And they should quit.

    Although those ads run in Indiana about quitting are probably done by the tabacco industry themselves for kick backs.

    Shows the true colors of this country. And it isn’t pretty.

  2. I loved this line:
    “The tobacco tax is a great way to pay for it,” he said, “because if you tax people who are smoking and they smoke less, then we have less health problems.”

    But – If this tax is to pay for children’s healthcare, and more people quit – then doesn’t that mean there is less money to pay for the healthcare of those children…

    How about this – how about Congress just basically flat out tells the hospitals/medical device manufacturer’s / drug companies that they have to charge less for their products.

    Ooh, OR, tell the insurance companies that they no longer are guaranteed to make money and they won’t be backed by the fed anymore?

    This tax does not make sense because it is a self defeating source of income. Additionally, it is essentially taxation without representation – the same reason tea was thrown into Boston harbor.

    If this bill is to pay for children’s healthcare, then all parents should be taxed to pay for it, vs. smokers. If there were no parents, then there would be no children, therefore, instead of a child tax credit, there should be a child tax charge.

  3. blackopsman

    Taxation without representation is EXACTLY what this IS. And we had better have another REAL “Tea Party” soon. Obama is totally out of control! Our Congress and Senate hace FAILED! A new govt MUST be installed or we are all doomed… Where are the REAL PATRIOTS???

  4. Pingback: Dems to make low-income nicotine addicts pay for health care bill | USA COINTELPRO VICTIM OF THE CIA PATRIOT & SPACE ACTS

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s