WASHINGTON--National tobacco legislation may be decidedly down, but it is not definitely dead. Following the two votes in the Senate that defeated the comprehensive tobacco bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain(R-Ariz), Republicans and Democrats alike vowed to continue efforts to pass some form of legislation. But politicians throughout Congress are in such discord on details that many doubt any tobacco legislation will clear Congress and win the Presidents signature in 1998.
Indeed, the tobacco legislation appears more likely to become an issue in the November elections than to become law. Supporters of the McCain bill accused the industry of buying votes. The defeat resulted from "the millions in campaign contributions to those senators who killed the bill," said Matthew L. Myers, executive vice president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
American Cancer Society Statement
In a statement on the defeat of the McCain bill, the American Cancer Societys Linda Hay Crawford, National Vice President, Federal and State Government Relations, said:
"As the debate on the McCain bill disintegrated, those who were trying to kill the bill spun the rhetoric the tobacco industry fed them. This bill, they said, is about taxes and big government. They were wrong. The McCain bill was about the 3,000 children who become regular smokers every day, the 420,000 Americans who die prematurely from tobacco-related diseases each year, and the hundreds of thousands of families who suffer the consequences of those early deaths.
"The American Cancer Society and the public health community will continue to fight for comprehensive, national tobacco control legislation, and we will not accept piecemeal solutions or halfhearted attempts by Congress to placate us and cover their own tracks for killing this bill."
Although the Senate voting did not strictly follow party lines, the majority of Republicans voted against the McCain measure and Democrats for it.
After the vote, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga) said Republicans there would work to pass a less costly bill that would focus more on curtailing teenage smoking and drug abuse and less on imposing high taxes on cigarettes. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss) also pledged to try to enact a less costly bill and predicted nothing as comprehensive as the McCain bill would pass the Senate.
This led White House spokesman Michael McCurry to remark: "There is no such thing as a slimmed-down bill that protects kids from tobaccosmoking."
Democrats threatened to try to attach the McCain provisions as amendments to other bills in an effort to force passage, but their first try won only 44 votes and was defeated.
As drafted by Sen. McCain, the bill sought to raise at least $516 billion over the next 25 years from the tobacco industry, in large part by a $1.10 a pack increase in cigarette prices over 5 years. It would also have expanded the Food and Drug Administrations regulatory powers over tobacco and imposed heavy fines on tobacco companies that did not reduce the percentage of teenagers who use their products.
The Senate debate on the bill consumed about 80 hours over a months time, during which senators added amendments that would have reduced taxes for some married couples and self-employed persons, limited the fees of attorneys suing tobacco companies, and added money to antidrug efforts.
During the debate, the tobacco industry waged a $40 million national advertising campaign that attacked the legislation as an unfair tax and an attempt to increase government regulations and programs. The advertising blitz generated a flow of communications to Capitol Hill opposing the bill, and tobacco farmers let their home state legislatures know of their personal financial concerns.
The tobacco industrys effort overwhelmed an ad campaign by a group of public health organizations, including the American Cancer Society, to explain the important health implications of the measure.
60 Votes Required
The McCain bill lost even though it appears to enjoy majority support in the Senate because it was debated under a Senate rule that requires 60 votes to bring a bill to the floor for a vote.
The bill fell on two procedural votes. In the first, senators voted 57 to 42--three short of the needed 60 votes--to limit debate and bring the measure to a vote. Only two Democrats voted no, and 14 Republicans voted yes. In the second, the vote was 53 to 46 to allow the bill to remain on the floor for further consideration.