Clinton Tries To Salvage Tobacco Legislation
Lott says White House shows 'no courage' on tobacco
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, April 20) -- President Bill Clinton, trying to salvage embattled legislation to raise cigarette prices and reduce teen smoking, said Monday Congress can still approve the legislation if lawmakers work together.
"We need this to be a bipartisan effort," Clinton said in a brief White House question-and-answer session. "We need everybody working together. We can do this. And we can work through all the differences that are out there and we can pass a bill that will clearly, dramatically reduce teen smoking."
Clinton said he was concerned, though, by recent criticism of proposed Senate legislation by House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
"Before his [Gingrich's] recent comments, I had been encouraged, because he basically said that he would not permit us to take a stronger position than he did," Clinton said.
Just back from a four-day trip to Chile, Clinton said he wasn't in the country to hear the context of Gingrich's remarks, "but I certainly hope that he will return to his former position."
Clinton said the tobacco legislation needs to raise cigarette prices, impose tough restrictions on advertising and impose penalties on the industry if it continues to sell to children.
| Transcript: President Bill Clinton On Tobacco Legislation|
He called the legislation by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) "a strong step in the right direction" and said it's no time for half measures that won't reduce teen smoking.
Lott rips White House
Meanwhile, Senate Majority leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said the
White House needs to show more leadership on the tobacco issue.
Lott told reporters Monday the administration has shown "no courage at
all." He made the remarks about the same time the Clinton made his statement on tobacco.
"The adminstration will have to be involved and show more leadership
than they have up to this point," Lott said. "I mean, all they really have seen the tobacco settlement is as a cookie jar for them to get money. The president, like a lot
of issues, he says, 'Ok, yeah, we need to do this. Good luck Congress. Call me
when you get it done.' And that's kind of what he's done with the tobacco
settlement. They've provided no leadership, shown no courage at all. And
they're going to have to do better than that."
Lott said during the two-week recess his constituents never brought up the proposed tobacco settlement. "Did they talk about it?" he was asked. Lott responded, "Nah."
He said this week he will meet with key senators and the House
leadership on when Congress could consider the tobacco legislation.
Lott said everyone would like to find a way to deal with tobacco use by
teenagers, and "if it can be done in a very narrow way, that's doable." But
Lott added that if the settlement is broader, it "would take more time. I don't think anyone has any idea how this will play out."
McCain concedes GOP opposition
Meanwhile, McCain admitted his bill
is under attack from his own party over the claims the deal represents a "big government solution" to the problem of youthful smoking. Gingrich has objected to giving federal agencies the broad powers to regulate nicotine.
"We can discuss that," McCain told Fox News Sunday. "I think that the
states need to be reimbursed. I think that's very important. I think we need to reimburse Medicare."
But McCain says he would adamantly oppose any new entitlement program that would result from the tobacco windfall.
McCain's bill would cost cigarette makers $516 billion over 25
years. It would raise cigarette taxes in exchange for capping the industry's liability claims.
Top Republicans will meet this week to consider McCain's bill, which has been approved by the Senate Commerce Committee. McCain is also expected to meet with White House officials, but he says Clinton Administration officials have offered few proposals of their own.
"They have refused to lead, and they still won't be specific as to what 'improvements' they want made," McCain said.