TOBACCO SETTLEMENT: Gore Announces Support For Conrad Bill
"Vice President Al Gore joined a dozen senators and representatives at a Capitol Hill news conference [yesterday] to unveil a bill that would raise $500 billion over a quarter- century through steep price increases for cigarettes," the Sacramento Bee reports. The measure, introduced by Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) and known as the Healthy Kids Act, would not provide the tobacco companies with legal immunity from lawsuits, and would "raise the cigarette tax by $1.50 a pack in 50-cent increments over three years." In addition to "raising money for children's health insurance and anti-smoking programs, the legislation would provide up to $75 billion over 25 years for Medicare and Social Security." Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) said, "Unlike the tobacco settlement announced last year, this legislation isn't a sweetheart deal for the tobacco industry" (Rosen, 2/12).
Will It Fly?
"President Clinton strongly supports this bill and would gladly sign this bill if Congress puts it on his desk," Gore said. However, the chances for passage appear limited, as Republicans and some Democrats argue that a more bipartisan approach is needed. Sen. John Chafee (R-RI) said, "This is an issue that cries out for bipartisan leadership, and frankly, a bill written solely by the Democratic caucus is not going to get the job done." Several Democratic senators from tobacco states signed a letter Tuesday outlining the "need for a bipartisan tobacco plan." "We simply do not believe partisan proposals have any realistic chance of becoming law," wrote Sens. Charles Robb (D- VA), Max Cleveland (D-GA), Wendell Ford (D-KY) and Ernest Hollings (D-SC) (Hardin, AP/Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2/12).
The White House Line
The States News Service/Chicago Tribune reports that Gore urged senators to "[s]upport this legislation, or come forward with your own bill that meets (the administration's) objectives and principles." According to Gore, tobacco legislation must "raise the price of cigarettes, affirm the Food and Drug Administration's authority to regulate tobacco, require full industry disclosure about its product, provide funds for medical research and health care, and cushion the blow for tobacco farmers." Gore said, "President Clinton and I simply cannot get behind a watered-down, piecemeal bill, one that ducks the problem of teen smoking instead of dealing with it" (Wallison, 2/12). The New York Times reports that by not "latch[ing] on specifically to the Conrad measure or any other tobacco bill," the White House is hoping to "force Republicans ... to stick their necks out first." Both Gore and White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry said that although the administration supports the Conrad bill, there is concern that it does not have bipartisan support (Rosenbaum, 2/12).
The Washington Times reports that "Republicans have dismissed the Democratic proposal as a one-sided plan that makes unrealistic demands on the tobacco industry." Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said, "It's troubling that it seems this is an effort to politicize the issue instead of drafting a bill that's workable" (Goldreich, 2/12). NPR's Brian Naylor noted that "there is little support among Republicans for the approach taken by Conrad and other Senate Democrats. Even the plan unveiled today has the support of only half of the Senate Democrats. Supporters say it's a start and conceded it will be changed. But it illustrates the long and difficult road ahead if lawmakers hope to reach an agreement this year" ("All Things Considered," 2/11).
Tobacco companies denounced the Conrad proposal because it does not provide the industry immunity from future lawsuits. The five largest tobacco companies issued a statement saying they would "not consent to the severe marketing and advertising restrictions without protections from civil liability" (Curriden, Dallas Morning News, 2/12).