TOBACCO: House Republicans Eye Scaled-Back Bill
"It was a deceptively bad week for America's anti-tobacco forces," the Washington Post reports. While Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) anti-tobacco legislation "made some progress" in the Senate, tobacco legislation was snagged in the House. According to the Post, the question of "legal protections for cigarette makers" is what "disrupted the McCain bill late Thursday" in the House. There was also "strong resistance" among House Republicans to McCain's provision that would grant the Food and Drug Administration "broad regulatory power" over the tobacco industry, according to Rep. Scott McInnis (R-CO), who is heading a Republican tobacco task force in the House. "The Senate bill has become so large, complex, bureaucratic and massive, the House will have little interest in it," said Rep. James Greenwood (R-PA), another member who is helping draft a House version of the tobacco bill. "We will not have a bill that raises $600 billion to $800 billion in taxes," said Rep. John Linder (R-GA), head of the National Republican Congressional Committee (Connolly, 5/24).
In The GOP House
CongressDaily reports that Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-OH), a leader of the House GOP tobacco task force, started circulating a set of "principles" Friday to guide the creation of tobacco legislation. Under Pryce's guidelines, the House bill would be narrower than McCain's -- no new government programs, taxes or FDA regulations would be created. Tobacco industry penalties for not curbing teen smoking would be less stringent than those contained in McCain's bill. CongressDaily reports the House GOP bill would attempt to curb teen smoking with a provision that would "revoke the driver's licenses of teens who possess cigarettes illegally." Pryce's principles also envision a bill that would restrict Big Tobacco's advertising by taking away the industry's ability to deduct ad expenses from their taxes. CongressDaily reports that members of the task force "are said to be cool to many of the more stringent -- and constitutionally questionable -- McCain bill provisions governing advertising content." The guidelines also call for a limit of $150 per hour on fees for private attorneys who helped represent states' claims against the industry (Koffler/Caruso, 5/22).
Not Gonna Get It
When CNN's Wolf Blitzer asked House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) this weekend if the McCain bill will "fly" in the House, Gingrich responded: "No, I don't think -- I think the House will pass a strong anti-teen smoking bill. I think we will not give the tobacco companies liability. We're looking at the idea frankly of eliminating their tax deductibility of their marketing and advertising expenses, but I can't imagine us giving them liability. Why should a company that deliberately tried to addict 14-year-olds get special legal protection, when companies that make heart valves won't? I think it's just wrong." When asked if a cigarette tax amounts to a "huge tax for working people," Gingrich said, "What I don't want to see happen is a Ted Kennedy, liberal big-spending program with that money. If we raise any money on cigarettes, we should return it to the American people as a tax break for health insurance and help people buy health insurance. We should not allow a new bureaucracy to grow in Washington with government getting bigger and taxes getting higher" ("Late Edition," 5/24).
In other tobacco news, the Boston Globe reports that Congress voted Friday "to eliminate $15.5 billion in federal disability payments and medical care for veterans harmed by smoking." Honoring President Clinton's 1999 budget request to omit costs associated with caring for "veterans whose smoking-related illnesses could not be directly linked to military service," House and Senate members voted to "cut the funding to help offset extra spending in a $203 billion highway and mass transit bill." Veterans called the action -- made on the eve of Memorial Day weekend -- "highway robbery." Phil Badahn, spokesperson for the American Legion, said, "We are very disappointed that so many members of Congress have decided their constituents really prefer seeing money spent on potholes and not sick veterans." The American Legion says it will sue the government over the policy because it contends the military aggressively promoted smoking, especially during World War II. While Gingrich "tried to assuage angry veterans leaders" by pointing out that veterans would still receive $1.5 billion in funds not affected by the highway bill, "the veterans were not appeased," the Globe reports (Hohler, 5/23).