In an effort to defuse a White House call for boosting the tobacco tax, House Republican leaders may stage a vote next week on President Clinton's entire $90 billion package of tax increases, knowing that it has no prospect for passage.
As they step up their efforts to complete work on the remaining fiscal 2000 spending bills without dipping into the Social Security surplus, Republicans appeared determined yesterday to shift some of the pressure to the Democrats to choose between higher taxes and increased spending.
Administration officials have argued that Congress could solve many of the remaining spending problems and help discourage teenage smoking by increasing the tobacco tax by 55 cents a pack and raising $7.8 billion next year. But House and Senate GOP leaders say they would oppose any tax increase and instead will push for additional savings, possibly including a 1 percent across-the-board spending cut totaling nearly $6 billion.
"We think those tough choices should come to the floor of the House and get an airing," House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) said yesterday. "We think [Democrats] should put their little cards in the [voting] machine and see if they'll vote for these tough choices."
Clinton has proposed 75 different 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. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer (R-Tex.) released an analysis of the tobacco tax proposal 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.
Several southern Democrats joined Republicans in a news conference yesterday to denounce Clinton's tobacco tax. Rep. C. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who appeared along with Democrats including Sanford Bishop (Ga.), Allen Boyd Jr. (Fla.), Virgil H. Goode Jr. (Va.), Ken Lucas (Ky.) and Mike McIntyre (N.C.), called the move "poor budget policy."
"Not only will our farmers be hurt by this tax increase, but America's low- to middle-income workers who choose to use tobacco products will suffer as well," Chambliss said.
Meanwhile, the House approved the final version of a $268 billion defense appropriations bill while the Senate completed work on the nation's $69.3 billion farm budget, sending it to Clinton's desk by a 74 to 26 vote. The president is expected to sign the measure, which will send a record $8.7 billion in emergency aid to the nation's struggling farmers.
With commodity prices plunging to historic lows throughout much of the country, most of the opposition to the package came from eastern senators, who argued that it does not go far enough to compensate farmers for losses during droughts and Hurricane Floyd. Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) vowed yesterday to keep pushing for additional drought relief.
The defense spending package, including a provision that delays for a year production of the F-22 fighter jet, was approved by the House by a vote of 372 to 55. Rep. David R. Obey (Wis.), the ranking House Appropriations Committee Democrat, opposed the measure, charging that it was riddled with budgetary "gimmicks" to circumvent the spending caps.
"They're hiding money in a disappearing magic show so they can look fiscally responsible," Obey said.
Also yesterday, House and Senate negotiators neared an agreement on a bill funding the Interior Department by resolving several disputes over environmental provisions.
Negotiators agreed to postpone the implementation of new oil royalty rules for six months or until the General Accounting Office issued a report on the subject, a delay backed by the industry and senators from oil-producing states. The conferees exempted current hard-rock mining operations from a five-acre limit on waste dumping but subjected future ventures to the stricter rules.
They also agreed to subject expiring grazing permits to an environmental review and gave the administration $226 million for land acquisition, $187 million below Clinton's request.