This vote was on an amendment by John Ensign, R-Nev., that would use some of the tobacco tax money that funds the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to establish a trust fund for disease prevention and research at the National Institutes of Health. The SCHIP program – funded primarily through taxes on tobacco products -- helps low income families with children afford health insurance, and currently covers about 6 million kids.
The amendment was offered to a bill that would reauthorize SCHIP and expand the program’s funding by about $35 billion over the life of the bill. To offset the cost of expansion, the bill would increase the federal tax on cigarettes by 61 cents, to $1 per pack.
Ensign’s amendment would stipulate that the trust fund should be funded at levels equal to the extra tax revenue the bill would create by raising the tax on cigarettes.
“I strongly believe in the role of Federal Government plays in promoting basic research. Some have noted that an increase in the tobacco tax should be used to fund the costs that tobacco imposes on our society. I agree with that,” Ensign said. “The revenue from increased tobacco tax rates in the underlying bill will be transferred to this trust fund. From there, the dollars will be made available to fund research on diseases that are often associated with tobacco use.”
Max Baucus, D-Mont., said Ensign’s amendment would gut new funding for the program, because it would, in essence, spend the same tax revenue twice.
“Back here in the real world I want Senators to know this amendment is a thinly veiled attempt to steal the funding from the children’s health care program. It is an attempt to undermine children’s health care coverage. That is what this bill does. It takes a dollar from the tobacco tax—it is amazing—and that dollar is going to be spent on this trust fund and that same dollar is going to be spent on children’s health care. We can’t do that,” Baucus said.
By a vote of 26-58, the Senate rejected Ensign’s amendment. All Democrats present voted against the amendment. Of Republicans present, 26 voted for the amendment, and 15 voted against it. The end result is that the bill went forward without language that would have required the government to spend the bill’s increased tobacco tax revenues on a new disease prevention research trust fund account.