TOBACCO: Parliamentary Move Finally Kills Senate Bill
After a full month of legislative wrangling, "the Senate fell three votes shy of keeping alive the most comprehensive and expensive anti-smoking plan ever proposed" (Curriden/LaGesse, Dallas Morning News, 6/18). CongressDaily/A.M. reports that the end "was signaled" when yet another cloture motion to end debate was defeated 57-42 (60 votes are needed to invoke cloture). Sens. Wendell Ford (KY) and Charles Robb (VA) were the only Democrats to vote no on the cloture motion. The "Senate then immediately voted 53-46 to table a motion to waive a budget point of order against the bill," a defeat which sends the bill back to committee, "from whence its proponents do not expect it to re-emerge" (Koffler, 6/18). "Let there be no misunderstanding about what we are doing here. This will kill the bill," said Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) (Dallas Morning News, 6/18).
GOP Takes A Hit
Democrats placed blame for the defeat squarely on the shoulders of the Republican majority, accusing them of being in the pocket of tobacco interests. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said, "I believe that allowing this bill to die by all of these distractions would be one of the most shocking abdications of our public responsibilities that has been seen in years" (CNN's "Moneyline," 6/17). Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said, "The Republicans essentially loaded up the bill and then found reason to vote against it" ("Newshour," PBS, 6/17). Some statements were more severe. "The American people understand who is responsible. The fingerprints of the tobacco industry and the Republican Party are all over this vote tonight," said Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) (Dallas Morning News, 6/18). Daschle added: "For [Republicans] to deny a final passage vote on tobacco after all of this work and all of this effort, when there is a clear majority in favor of a tobacco bill, in my view is the height of injustice ("All Things Considered," NPR, 6/17).
Political Gold Mine
In fact, the Chicago Tribune reports that yesterday's action "handed Democrats something ... they hadn't been able to come up with on their own for the midterm elections: a high-profile issue with bumper-sticker appeal." Democrats have already started to portray the Republican party "as the defender of one of the more despised industries in the nation," and themselves as "defenders of the nation's children" (Tackett, 6/18). President Clinton said, "When the American people understand fully what's been going on, they won't like what they see," adding that "there should be" political consequences for the GOP (Weisman, Baltimore Sun, 6/18). Even bill sponsor Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) warned his colleagues, saying, "Personally, I would not like to go into this next election having been responsible for killing a way to address the fact that 3,000 kids start smoking every day and 1,000 of them will die early" (Murphy, Arizona Republic, 6/18).
From The Right
The GOP reacted by standing by its principles and reiterating why it opposed the bill in the first place. Sen. John Ashcroft (R-MO), one of the fiercest opponents of the bill, said, "Perhaps more addictive than nicotine is the urge of government to tax and spend and regulate. It is time for us to break the habit" ("Moneyline," 6/17). Majority Whip Don Nickles (R-OK) said, "This was terrible legislation. I've been in the Senate now for 18 years. Other than the president's health care legislation, this is the worst legislation I've ever seen" (Akers, Washington Times, 6/18). Several Republicans also downplayed the Democrats' insistence that the American people wanted the legislation and that the GOP would pay in the fall. Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX) said Americans "realized that the tax was not borne by tobacco companies but the tax was borne basically by blue collar Americans, and that the money was used for a massive expansion in government spending" ("Newshour," 6/17). Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC) had the most striking reaction, saying of tobacco bill supporters, "They're a bunch of crybabies. They lost, and they can't stand it" (Rosen, Raleigh News & Observer, 6/18).
The Road Ahead
Many Democrats vowed to not give up the fight. "The Republicans may mug this bill in the Senate, but they cannot kill it. We will not let it die," Kennedy said (Hohler, Boston Globe, 6/18). Daschle added, "[S]ome day in the not too distant future, we will pass tobacco legislation that will rectify what we're doing tonight" ("World Today," CNN, 6/17). The Winston-Salem Journal notes that the "focus now shifts to the House." Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) said the House still plans to take up its own bill to address teen smoking. "Our goal is to reduce teen smoking, not increase taxes," he said (Hoeffel, 6/18).