TOBACCO SETTLEMENT: White House Endorses Rep. Fazio’s Bill
Rep. Vic Fazio (D-Sacramento) "introduced House Democrats' main tobacco legislation Wednesday," the Sacramento Bee reports. White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala lent White House support for Fazio's proposal at a conference announcing the bill's introduction (Rosen, 3/12). Bowles said the president "would be proud to sign it, just as he would be proud to sign" a similar proposal introduced by Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND). Fazio's bill "would place greater financial burdens on cigarette makers than the industry's proposed national settlement" and would not grant the industry any legal immunity, the Wall Street Journal reports. The proposal "closely tracks" the president's spending priorities for tobacco money -- "$60.5 billion for child care and $7.5 billion for education over five years" -- raising $500 billion over 25 years from cigarette makers (Taylor, 3/12). The Boston Globe reports that Fazio's bill would raise the price of cigarette packs by $1.50 and would impose stiff penalties on Big Tobacco if it fails to reduce the number of teen smokers (Black, 3/12). The bill also "would give the Food and Drug Administration full authority to regulate nicotine as a narcotic and to control cigarettes as drug-delivery devices." In introducing his "Healthy Kids Act," Fazio said, "This industry has no shame when it comes to addicting our kids to cigarettes" (Sacramento Bee, 3/12).
Since he is not running for reelection this year, Fazio "has greater political freedom to push the administration's tobacco policy than others in the House," the Journal reports (3/12). The Washington Post notes that Fazio's bill "lacks any Republican support" (Torry/Schwartz, 3/12). The measure is cosponsored by 35 Democrats, the Washington Times reports (Goldreich, 3/12). "The Democrats have come together. The big question of the day is can we count on the Republicans to join us," said Fazio (Boston Globe, 3/12).
Bipartisan Bill Today
Bipartisan, comprehensive legislation sponsored by three senators -- John Chafee (R-RI), Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Bob Graham (D-FL) -- is being introduced today at a Hill press conference (joint release, 3/11). The Washington Times reports that the White House plans to support this tobacco proposal. The "most important difference between" the Fazio proposal and the Chafee-Harkin-Graham proposal "is that the Senate bill would set an $8 billion annual cap on the amount tobacco makers would pay to settle private lawsuits." The White House's "mixed message reflects President Clinton's effort to straddle the issue while Republicans and Democrats fight over how to craft a plan to reduce underage smoking," the Washington Times reports (3/12).