WASHINGTON -- Signs developed yesterday that the Senate's weeks-long impasse on anti-smoking legislation might be broken.
The Senate voted, 52-46, for a Republican amendment to use some of the money that would be raised from higher cigarette prices on drug abuse programs. Both of Maryland's Democratic senators, Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes, voted in favor of the amendment.
The vote was the first on the legislation in three weeks, and plans were made to vote today on proposals to use other money from the tobacco legislation for income-tax cuts.
No one involved was prepared to assert that the bill was out of the woods. But in a brief interview, Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, the Republican leader, said, "If we're going to start having some votes, then something might happen."
This was a different tack from the one Lott took on Monday, when he said the bill was such bad legislation that it should be withdrawn. Approval of anti-drug measures and tax cuts "does change the mix," he said last night.
In a telephone conversation just before President Clinton's news conference yesterday afternoon, Lott told the president of the progress.
When he was asked about the legislation, the president said: "I do believe that the possibility of getting a comprehensive bill out of the Senate is greater now than it was this morning. There are still problems, to be sure. But we are getting closer to, I think, a principled compromise."
The basic bill, meant to discourage teen-age smoking, would raise the price of cigarettes by at least $1.10 a pack over five years, expand federal regulation of tobacco marketing and advertising, and require the cigarette makers to pay stiff penalties if youth smoking did not fall to specified levels.
Most Democrats have argued that it is the most important public health measure to come before Congress in years. Republicans have countered that the legislation is a futile effort to deal with a public health problem by raising taxes and creating new government programs.
The measure to be considered today would give tax breaks to couples filing joint returns and to self-employed workers who must pay for their own medical insurance. That and the anti-drug measure approved last night give Republicans the opportunity to argue that they have turned the legislation into one that fits Republican principles.
Pub Date: 6/10/98