Passing Out the Tobacco Dividend

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WASHINGTON: If anyone's wondering what middle-class married couples have to do with the crimes of Big Tobacco, Texas Republican Phil Gramm is the man to ask. "If we're raising taxes for tens of billions of dollars for spending, then why not give part of it back?" Gramm said after his amendment to the tobacco legislation passed the Senate Thursday. It would use a slice of the $516 billion that John McCain, the bill's sponsor, envisions collecting from the industry to finance dropping the "marriage tax" penalty for couples earning less than $50,000 a year.

Got that? As TIME congressional correspondent John Dickerson says, "This was awfully hard to be against. It's a middle-class tax cut in an election year, and it gives the Republicans cover." The GOP, after all, is supposed to cut taxes, not raise them. Gramm is happy because it's a tax cut. McCain is happy because his bill is still alive. But more than a few Democrats are starting to worry that the money in the tobacco kitty, which was supposed to save our children from Joe Camel, is being handed out in all the wrong places.