TOBACCO: House Vote Bars Interagency Funding for Case
By a 207-197 vote, the House yesterday approved language in a spending bill prohibiting the Justice Department from accepting $4 million from the Department of Veterans Affairs to help pay for a federal lawsuit against the tobacco industry, the AP/New York Times reports. The suit seeks to recover billions spent by Medicare in smoking-related health care treatments (6/20). Attorney General Janet Reno said that if other federal agencies were prevented from contributing to the costs of the lawsuit, which is expected to total $26.2 million next year, the Justice Department would be forced to abandon the case. "Some members of Congress are now trying to shut America's taxpayers out of the courtroom. Without these critical funds, we will have no choice but to seek to dismiss this litigation," Reno said. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), an advocate of Justice Department funding for tobacco litigation, said that the House vote indicates the degree of House support for similar measures. The vote was part of the House debate over a $101.1 billion spending bill for veterans, housing, environment and space programs for the next fiscal year. The bill would bring $20.3 billion for the veterans' medical care account, including legal costs, and would have allocated $4 million from that pool to the Justice Department. Defenders of the House vote argued that they were saving resources for veterans' health care needs, a suggestion rejected by four veterans' groups, who distributed a letter stating it was "inappropriate for Congress to attempt to undermine this litigation by manipulating the resources needed to support this action." The Justice Department had planned to finance the lawsuit by paying $14.2 million of the $26.2 million estimate itself and relying on the defense, HHS and Veterans Affairs departments to divide the remaining $12 million evenly (AP/Winston-Salem Journal, 6/20).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.