Trying to create momentum for anti-tobacco legislation, President Clinton gave his support Wednesday to making a tax cut for some married couples a centerpiece of the Senate bill.

White House press secretary Mike McCurry said the administration is pleased a Republican tax cut proposal under consideration is more in line with Clinton's own approach."They have gone from an appetite for a much more expansive approach on tax cuts now to what is, in effect, a fairly targeted approach to middle income tax relief," McCurry said, adding that this was "consistent with what the administration's approach to tax relief has been."

Later, White House spokesman Barry Toiv said Clinton would prefer a tax cut proposal being offered by Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., because it would be "much less costly."

Late Tuesday, just hours after Senate leaders suggested scrapping the tobacco legislation altogether, Sen. John McCain declared, "Reports of the death of this legislation are premature." Still, he warned the bill had yet to be revived.

"We certainly by no means have total confidence that we will reach a successful conclusion," McCain, R-Ariz., added.

Word of a deal on a tax cut amendment considerably brightened the bill's prospects late Tuesday.

"I do believe that the possibility of getting a comprehensive bill out of the Senate is greater now than it was this morning," Clinton told reporters shortly after speaking with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., and Minority Leader Daschle.

Lott was less optimistic about completing action. "This gets us started in that direction," he said on the Senate floor.

McCain's bill would charge tobacco companies $516 billion over 25 years, raise cigarette taxes by $1.10 a pack and allow the Food and Drug Administration to regulate nicotine.

In the bill's third week of debate, the stalemate over procedure cracked Tuesday afternoon when a Democratic motion to bring the measure to a final vote failed. Within minutes, Republicans and Democrats reached agreement on several of the procedural matters that had split them.

Reaching a deal among the GOP on what kind of tax cut to offer was a significant step, since Republicans have disagreed on the terms of that cornerstone of their political message. The deal also represented the GOP's determination to claim some credit this election year for legislation that Clinton has demanded.