TOBACCO: Senate OKs Approp,s Bill, Bans Fed Settlement Claim
The Senate passed a $15 billion emergency spending package yesterday for the war in Kosovo, complete with language preventing the federal government from claiming any part of the states' tobacco settlement, the Akron Beacon Journal reports. The tobacco language "had Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's (R-TX) fingerprints all over it," as she "originally thought to insert the measure into the Senate version of the bill." But others, including Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), singled out freshman Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) for praise in his efforts to "protec[t] states' rights to spend the money they fought so hard to win."
President Clinton said he would sign the provision "despite his opposition to language that he said would undermine the campaign to stop teen smoking" (Hicks, 5/21). In a speech yesterday, Clinton said, "Congress passed up an important opportunity to protect our children from the death and diseases caused by tobacco. ... Even though 3,000 young people become regular smokers each day and 1,000 will have their lives cut short as a result, most states still have no plans to use tobacco settlement funds to reduce youth smoking" (White House release, 5/20). Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids spokesperson Joel Spivak agreed, saying, "We think it's a public health tragedy. It's a shame that $246 billion was agreed to by the tobacco companies and the state attorneys general to compensate the states for treating tobacco-related illnesses, and little or none of it is being spent to deal with tobacco problems in the states" (Akron Beacon Journal, 5/21).
Wait and See
CongressDaily/A.M. reports that "faced with an overwhelming Senate rejection of efforts to ensure a federal role in the spending" of the states' tobacco settlement, "the Clinton administration has for now decided to send up the white flag." A senior White House official said, "I think we're going to watch what the states do in the spring as they wrap up their legislative sessions, and then we'll regroup." Still, tomorrow is another day: because the settlement funds are being paid out over 25 years, "skirmishes in various states" -- and efforts by the feds -- "could become an annual event," and "the partial distraction of the anti-smoking camp's attention away from the federal level ... could be a long-term fact of life." Although congressional or administration action is not expected on FDA regulation of tobacco until the Supreme Court issues its ruling, Clinton's nearly forgotten $35 billion tobacco tax increase could be revived in the fall, when Congress is "going to need some money," the White House official "impishly noted" (Koffler, 5/21).