WASHINGTON — The Senate Finance Committee, searching for ways to help Congress meet its deficit-reduction targets, voted Wednesday to raise the federal cigarette tax by 8 cents a pack.
But a House panel strongly rejected the proposal.
The votes occurred as the full Senate took up an amendment to again make spending cuts automatic under the Gramm-Rudman budget-balancing law. The Supreme Court had ruled the spending cut mechanism unconstitutional.
The Finance Committee, by an 11-8 vote, approved raising the cigarette tax on Oct. 1 to 24 cents from the current 16 cents. That would raise $5 billion for the Treasury over the next three years, Sen. John H. Chafee (R-R.I.), sponsor of the amendment, said.
Chafee's amendment was a substitute for a proposal to increase the federal excise tax on telephone service.
"Telephones are a true necessity," Sen. John C. Danforth (R-Mo.) said. "Cigarette smoking is not."
Committee Chairman Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) opposed the tax hike, saying afterward that he did not want to hit the tobacco industry twice in one year. In April, the current tax was extended, instead of being allowed to drop back to 8 cents a pack, as scheduled.