TOBACCO: Bill Still Alive Despite Parliamentary Setback
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle's (D-SD) effort yesterday to end debate on tobacco legislation by invoking cloture failed in a 56-42 vote, 18 votes shy of the 60 needed to bring the bill to an immediate vote (Rosen, Raleigh News & Observer, 6/10). The Boston Globe notes that all Senate Republicans voted against cloture, "as did two Democrats from tobacco-farming states, Sens. Wendell Ford of Kentucky and Charles Robb of Virginia" (Hohler, 6/10). Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) said, "Time is on the side of those trying to defeat this bill. History is not on their side, though. History will judge them harshly" (News & Observer, 6/10). Other Senators applauded Daschle for his strategy to put public pressure on Republicans, whom many claim are merely stalling legislative action on the bill. "It sent a very powerful message, and the Republicans blinked," said Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) (Globe, 6/10). Daschle filed another cloture motion yesterday, and "[a]nother motion filed last week will ripen Wednesday." Sources say Democrats want to force moderate Republicans "to go to Lott and demand action lest they appear to be stalling the measure" (Koffler/Caruso, CongressDaily, 6/9).
Despite Democrats' failure to end debate, the McCain bill "seemed to be back on track" by late yesterday. The bill's chances improved after an agreement was reached allowing a vote on a Republican amendment to use tobacco revenues for anti-drug efforts (Klein, Media General/Richmond Times-Dispatch, 6/10). The Morris News/Augusta Chronicle reports that in a 52-46 vote, again "primarily along party lines," the Senate approved an amendment by Sen. Paul Coverdell (R-GA) to set aside $3 billion in revenue from the tobacco bill to crack down on illegal drug users and the drug trade. "The money would be enough to allow the federal government to double the drug interdiction budgets of the Coast Guard, the Defense Department and the Customs Service," as well as boost the funding of the DEA and the FBI. The measure also bans federal needle-exchange funding, and encourage states to "test teenage driver's license applicants for drugs and restrict loans to students convicted of drug crimes" (Williams, 6/10). Lott had previously indicated that the drug provision was essential to the overall passage of the McCain bill (Espo, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/10). The New York Times reports that immediately after approving the amendment, the Senate defeated an alternative Democratic proposal, 45-53, that was less far-reaching (Rosenbaum, 6/10).
CongressDaily/A.M. reports that "[g]reasing the wheels of the tobacco debate Tuesday was an agreement struck in Lott's office among" McCain, Budget Chair Pete Domenici (R-NM), Finance Chair William Roth (R-DE) and Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX), "that would combine Gramm's proposal to begin phasing out the so-called marriage tax penalty with a Roth proposal to provide tax credits for the self-employed to purchase health insurance" (Koffler, 6/10). Crucial to the compromise was Gramm's concession to drop the price of the tax cut from $52 billion over five years to $16 billion over five years (Lipman, Austin American-Statesman, 6/10). The Wall Street Journal reports that consecutive votes on the Gramm-Roth amendment and a rival Democratic bill to cut $30 billion over 10 years "are expected today" (Taylor, 6/10).
Next On Tap
McCain said that after today's voting, "only a few contentious topics remained," including assistance to tobacco-dependent farmers and industry liability caps (New York Times, 6/10). Sens. Jim Jeffords (R-VT) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said yesterday that "they have filed an amendment, which they believe will have bipartisan support, that would limit the civil liability of tobacco companies that agree to pay into an $8 billion annual fund to compensate victims of tobacco-related disease." Companies signing on would be immune from class-action and individual lawsuits. McCain said the plan "sounds like a good idea" (CongressDaily/A.M., 6/10).
Following yesterday's session, President Clinton said, "I do believe that the possibility of getting a comprehensive bill out of the Senate is greater now than it was this morning. We are getting closer to, I think, a principled compromise" (Rodrigue, Dallas Morning News, 6/10). McCain echoed these sentiments: "Reports of the death of this legislation have been premature. I don't have total confidence that we can reach a conclusion. I am pleased with the success today, but we still have a lot of hurdles to get over" (Times-Dispatch, 6/10). Sen. John Ashcroft (R-MO), however, saw nothing positive come out of the session. When asked if it is "near death," he replied, "Well, it certainly is. I believe the American people are learning about this massive tax increase and over the life of this particular measure, it would be more like $880 billion" (CNN's "Inside Politics," 6/9).