Hatch-Feinstein Tobacco Bill Cuts Tab
Price, Joyce Howard, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, are co-sponsoring a $428.5 billion anti-smoking bill to replace the $516 billion tobacco measure that was killed in the Senate last week.
"We hope to present it sometime this week," Mrs. Feinstein said yesterday on CNN's "Late Edition."
Mr. Hatch discussed the proposed bill in some detail in a telephone interview yesterday. He said it calls for a $1.50-a-pack price increase for cigarettes over 10 years, rather than the $1.10-per-pack rise over five years called for under the bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican.
Mr. Hatch said the measure he and Mrs. Feinstein are sponsoring, which already has support of about a half-dozen senators on both sides of the aisle, would be similar to - but about $60 billion pricier - than the $368 billion settlement tobacco companies reached a year ago with attorneys general of 40 states who filed class-action suits that sought to recover Medicaid expenses for treating smoking-related illnesses.
The tobacco companies walked away from that settlement this year as Congress attempted to make it subject to federal law. The McCain bill, which cigarette firms said would bankrupt them, followed.
Mr. Hatch yesterday expressed confidence he could "bring tobacco companies kicking and screaming" back to the table with this measure, even though it would be far more expensive than the original tobacco settlement.
The reason? "They want some finality that's reasonable," he replied.
Mr. Hatch described the McCain bill as "dumb," "unconstitutional," and "too expensive."
Had it become law, he said, the McCain bill "would have led to 10 years of litigation" because tobacco companies would have felt compelled to challenge it.
He said that measure would have created a cigarette "black market," a threat he does not foresee with his legislation.
Mr. Hatch said his bill would impose a $5.5 billion-a-year liability cap on tobacco companies. The initial McCain bill had an $8.5 billion cap, but it was removed by a Senate vote.
The Utah senator sees a liability cap as essential to winning Big Tobacco's support for his bill. "They want to know what their liability is," he said. …