TOBACCO: Senate Kicks Off Weeklong Debate
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) gave an "emotional" speech yesterday to launch "a week of debate on a sweeping" tobacco settlement bill, the Arizona Republic reports. McCain, the author of the bill being debated this week, "accused the industry of years of lying about the effects of its products and the strategies used to market them." He said, "They have spared no expense to cover their purpose with lies. They have lied, no matter the cost to public health. They have sacrificed the truth and our children to their greed. They have lied because lying has been profitable, because lying worked. No more, no more. The lying stops today" (Barker, 5/19).
Bashful No More
Today's Tulsa World reports that Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles (R-OK) "has dropped any pretense of being neutral" on the tobacco issue, saying he wants to "kill" the McCain bill and substitute "a less sweeping alternative that may call for teens who smoke to lose their driver's licenses." Nickles' "main objection" to the tobacco bill is "the billions" it "would raise and make available for more spending." He also says supporters of the bill are being "less than truthful about just how much the proposal would raise." His own staff's estimate is that the McCain bill would "raise something like $850 billion and push up the price of cigarettes $2 per pack." Despite his efforts to derail the bill, "Nickles conceded ... he may be fighting a losing battle, citing the momentum already behind the" McCain bill (Myers, 5/19). Sen. John Ashcroft (R-MO) "warned that the bill was a throwback to the tax-and-spend days when Democrats ran Congress." He said, "The tobacco legislation is nothing more than an excuse to raise taxes and expand government -- exactly the opposite of our mandate from the American people" (Scully, Washington Times, 5/19).
A 'Rocky' Start
According to Media General/Richmond Times-Dispatch, "the debate got off to a rocky start when Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott [R-MS] announced he was adding a section to the bill that undermined protections for farmers that tobacco-state senators thought they had put into the bill" (Klein, 5/19). In addition, Lott removed a Finance Committee provision to "raise the price of cigarettes by $1.50 over two years and term the price increase a tax" (Koffler, CongressDaily/A.M., 5/19). Despite the anger caused by Lott's actions, "debate soon got back on track as senators saw they would have dozens of opportunities to amend the bill" during the week (Media General/Richmond Times-Dispatch (5/19).
Lott deleted the tobacco farmer protections authored by Sen. Wendell Ford (D-KY) and replaced them with a plan by Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Richard Lugar (R-IN). Lugar's plan would give quota holders "$8 per pound divided into equal payments over three years," while "[t]enants and farmers who lease quota would get $4 per pound divided in equal payments over three years." Lugar's proposal also would end the quota system in the 1999 crop year; "[p]rice supports would be reduced by 25% in 1999, 10% in 2000 and 10% in 2001, and then be eliminated in 2002 under the plan." One billion dollars over five years would be allocated to provide "economic assistance for tobacco-dependent states." Lugar's plan was endorsed by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) yesterday, "who broke ranks with" Ford on the issue. Ford "blasted" McConnell for defecting, saying "this is a sad day for our Kentucky farmers and a day I believe they won't soon forget" (Skillman, Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer, 5/19).
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), asked by CNN's Judy Woodruff what the odds are the McCain bill will pass in its current form: "Well, it isn't even formed as we sit here. The White House has been carefully drafting the bill and I think Senator McCain is basically accepting whatever they come up with hoping that they will push the bill for him. So I don't know what the final form is going to be and I really wonder if we can get any bill through at this particular time. There seems to be no real consensus" ("Inside Politics," 5/18).
Today's Dallas Morning News reports that the tobacco industry and attorneys for 41 states "have secretly discussed an alternative settlement plan that resembles a scaled-back version of the $368.5 billion deal the two sides reached last June." The alternative settlement "would become effective if Congress fails to enact anti-tobacco legislation this year." Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore (D) said, "The states, through our lawsuits and settlement, brought this opportunity to Congress to enact a national tobacco policy that would reduce underaged smoking and lead to greater control of the tobacco industry. When things began looking so bleak a few weeks ago, we decided we needed to have a Plan B in case Plan A blows up" (Curriden, 5/19).