CLINTON: Campaigns For Congressional Settlement Action
In a Rose Garden speech yesterday, President Clinton called on Congress to pass comprehensive tobacco legislation. The "tobacco industry once again seeks to put its bottom line above what would be our bottom line, the health of our children. ... I ask Congress and the American people to focus on the real opportunity now within our reach," he said. In an apparent reference to weekend comments by House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) that House Republicans intend to water down Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) tobacco bill and use its revenues for tax cuts, Clinton said, "This is not the time for half measures; that simply won't reduce teen smoking and it will only play into the tobacco industry's hands" (transcript, 4/20). The Washington Post reports that the administration plans "a week of intensive White House activity designed to build support on Capitol Hill -- as well as give lawmakers a preview of the public attacks they could face if they side with the tobacco industry in an election year" (Harris/Connolly/Eilperin/Schwartz, 4/21).
From The Hill
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), in a separate news conference yesterday, downplayed the urgency of the Senate to pass legislation. "I'm not trying to diminish it. But that's not No. 1,2,3,4,5 on the list of things that people ask us about." He also criticized the Clinton administration's lack of leadership on the issue thus far: "I mean, all they really have seen in the tobacco settlement is a cookie jar for them to get money. The president is -- like a lot of issues, he says, 'O.K., yeah, we need to do this. Good luck Congress. Call me when you get it done'" (Rosenbaum, New York Times, 4/21). Senate Budget Committee Chair Pete Domenici (R-NM) suggested that the desire of various groups to spend the money from the tobacco settlement is holding things up as well. "There's a wish list so long about what people want to use it for, that may kill it," he said on Fox News Sunday (Roth, Houston Chronicle, 4/20).
The Eye Of Newt
The Washington Times reports that Gingrich "sought to clarify comments he made over the weekend suggesting the House would not pass" the McCain bill because it is "too liberal." "There is no doubt" Congress "will pass landmark legislation to protect our children from the dangers of both tobacco and illegal drugs" this year, Gingrich said. Cristina Martin, Gingrich's spokesperson, added that he "would not be cowed by the tobacco companies into shelving legislation the industry opposes." She also maintained that any revenue gleaned from the settlement must go toward tax cuts. Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-OH), the House majority's point person for tobacco, said that "if there is any tax, it will be a no new net tax" (Akers, 4/21).
Public Health Gurus Weigh In
CongressDaily/A.M. reports that at a hearing before the Senate Democratic tobacco task force yesterday, former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop sharply criticized the McCain bill for being too weak. He said the liability limits in the bill should be "rewritten" and it should "allow for claims based on addictiveness." Former FDA Commissioner David Kessler and National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids President Matthew Myers also spoke, but were more supportive of the bill, saying it "broke the hold the tobacco companies have had on the legislative process." Both, however, criticized Gingrich's weekend statements about the McCain bill (Koffler, 4/21). "It's not about tax cuts and it's not about big government. It's about public health," said Kessler. The Wall Street Journal reports that Koop and Kessler met with McCain yesterday to "discuss possible changes to the Commerce Committee bill" (Taylor, 4/21).