Children or Tobacco?

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Last week, despite a presidential veto threat, both the House and Senate passed legislation that would expand the Children's Health Insurance Program. With an estimated 9 million children without insurance in this country, it might be surprising that there were 23 senators opposed to the legislation.   Follow the money, and the votes make a lot more sense. The program expansion gets its funding from a 61 cent increase in the federal excise tax for tobacco. Of the 23 senators that voted against the bill, 21 have collected more than $1.8 million in campaign contributions from the tobacco industry during their time in office-an average of $75,000 per senator, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. While these senators use the excuse of fiscal responsibility and "socialized medicine" as their excuse for voting against the bill, it seems a majority of Americans support the tobacco tax if that means more children will have health insurance.   The chart below gives the picture of tobacco industry contributions to federal candidates. Let's look at Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC). He's raised $329,000 from the tobacco industry during his time in both chambers. That equals about $1.50 for every one of the 240,000 uninsured children in North Carolina. His counterpart who also voted "no", Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC), doesn't have nearly as much tobacco money-only $86,000. However, Sen. Burr has been serving in Congress longer.  The legislation is now being cleaned up before being sent to the president's desk. He has threatened to veto it. At $262,270 in tobacco money over his two presidential elections, that's not exactly another surprising twist.