Lott: Do Or Die This Week For Tobacco Bill
Majority leader says changes are making bill worse
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, June 14) -- Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said Sunday that the Senate will have to "move on" to other legislation if it can't reach agreement on a tobacco bill this week.
And Lott, in an interview on ABC's "This Week" program, made it clear that he thinks the bill currently on the Senate floor, which has been substantially amended during three weeks of debate, should not be approved as now written.
"Everybody that has touched it has made it worse," said Lott, R-Miss. "It's become such a massive tax bill now -- such a massive government program with incredible spending -- and we still haven't resolved some of the stickiest problems of all, and that is what do you do about these massive attorneys' fees and what do you do about how the (tobacco) farmers are compensated."
"This bill is so bad right now, I just don't think it should be passed in this form," he said.
However, Rahm Emanuel, a top adviser to President Bill Clinton, said Sunday the White House is still confident that a comprehensive tobacco bill can pass.
"We are pushing very hard, and we believe members of Congress, as they vote, will vote like parents and not politicians," Emanuel said on NBC's "Meet The Press."
Lott might opt for 'much smaller' measure
Lott said if agreement can't be reached this week, the bill may either be put aside or substituted with a "much smaller" measure that is "much more in line with the original concept" of reducing teen smoking.
The current bill, whose primary sponsor is Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., would raise the price of cigarettes by $1.10 per pack, place new limitations on tobacco advertising and marketing and impose penalties on tobacco companies if teen smoking does not decrease to specific target levels over a 10-year period.
Under the legislation, tobacco companies would have to pay an estimated $516 billion over the next 25 years. They have launched an advertising blitz against the McCain bill, characterizing it as a massive tax increase to fund expansion of the federal bureaucracy.
This past week, the bill was amended with provisions that would take some of the money raised by a new tax on tobacco products and use it to end the so-called "marriage penalty" in the tax code. Some of the money was also channeled to anti-drug efforts and child-care programs. But the Senate defeated an effort to limit fees that can be charged by lawyers suing tobacco companies.
Lott said the changes have made the bill "bigger and bigger" and complained that it is "going to cost hundreds of billions of dollars, spent on a myriad of programs, a lot of which don't have to do with tobacco."
Hatch may introduce substitute
On Sunday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, termed the McCain bill a "disaster." He said he may introduce a substitute that would be much closer to the provisions of a $369 billion settlement tobacco companies reached a year ago with a group of state attorneys general, who sued them to recover the health-related costs of tobacco use.
Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," Hatch said he and the substitute's other principal sponsor, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., "may bring it up if the timing is right and there is any possibility of moving it."
"We provide for public health that really works, where the (bill) on the floor is starting to lose out on public health, in spite of some of the public health leaders who thought it was so wonderful to begin with," Hatch said. "We have limited liability provisions that literally will bring the tobacco companies back to the table."
House Republican leaders also have said they favor a smaller bill that doesn't extract as much tax money from tobacco companies and that focuses on cutting teen smoking and drug abuse.
Lott: Dynamics of tobacco politics changing
Given the unpopularity of the tobacco industry and the perception that Republicans are allying themselves with big tobacco, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., termed the fight over the McCain bill a "win-win" situation for Democrats.
"We'd love the bill, but we'll take the issue (into the fall campaign,)" he said.
However, Lott said Sunday he thinks the political dynamics are changing.
"The latest polls show, as a matter of act, the American people think this is a typical Washington solution -- big money grab, greed has just completely taken over, government trying to dictate everything," he said on "This Week."