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.