TOBACCO: House Vote Allows DOJ to Accept Litigation Funds
Nearly two dozen House Republicans reversed course Friday in the battle over financing for the Justice Department's lawsuit against Big Tobacco, voting to allow the DOJ to accept $12 million in funding from the departments of Veteran Affairs, Defense and HHS. The turnabout, prompted by pressure from President Clinton, health advocates and veterans groups, propelled Rep. Henry Waxman's (D-Calif.) financing amendment, attached to a spending bill for the Departments of Commerce, Justice and State, to a 215-183 victory. Last Monday, GOP leaders accused Democrats of "robbing" veterans health care programs to pay for its tobacco lawsuit, and the House voted 207-197 to bar the Department of Veterans Affairs from transferring funds to the DOJ. But that vote was abruptly reversed the next day, paving the way for Friday's coup by tobacco opponents.
More Challenges Ahead?
Praising the vote, Clinton said the House had decided to "support the interests of the American people over those of the special interests," and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids President Matthew Myers called the final tally "the worst defeat the tobacco industry has suffered in the past decade and [a reflection of the] true evolution in the balance of power." Crediting the "vigorous media campaign" conducted by the White House and health advocates with "foiling" the GOP effort to "sneak" through an anti-funding provision, Waxman added, "When [Republican] efforts gained visibility, they couldn't hold their troops"(Pianin, Washington Post, 6/24). Tobacco industry officials were angered by the decision. "This is about taxation and regulation through litigation. They want to get money out of us, and they're using a political lawsuit to do it," contended Philip Morris USA spokesperson Peggy Roberts (AP/Washington Times, 6/24). Tobacco opponents hope Friday's vote clears the path for the DOJ lawsuit. Waxman said, "I think this settles the issue. I can't see how any other effort in any other legislation will succeed." But Republicans said they expect other efforts to limit funding will crop up in the House and the Senate, pointing to language inserted by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) into the Senate DOJ spending bill that would prevent the transfer of funds for tobacco litigation (Holmes, New York Times, 6/24).