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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Maybe not in her aye, but the smoke still stings



U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, under fire for leading the charge for a bill that would increase cigar taxes, sent out a statement from Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee saying she did what she could.

On Wednesday, the House passed a nearly $50-billion expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which provides insurance to poor kids who aren't poor enough to qualify for Medicaid. Much of the money comes from a new tobacco tax, including a 33-percent excise tax on cigars, with a $1-per-stogie cap. The Senate version has a $3 cap. The current tax is 5 cents per cigar, and cigar industry folks in Tampa and Miami say either could cost thousands of jobs.

Castor was seen on CSPAN managing the bill on the House floor. Enter Rangel, whose committee approved the tax hike, damage control:

"Rep. Castor should be commended for her leadership in the House to ensure the cigar industry's concerns were addressed while drafting the ... act," Rangel said in a statement released by Castor's office. "People should be proud of her efforts to reduce the cigar tax from the high levels set by the Senate, and she has my promise to continue to work with her to make sure we do not ignore the very real impact this change could have on a Tampa tradition."

Even if the House and Senate can reconcile their versions, President Bush has vowed to veto the bill.

[Last modified: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 1:56pm]


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