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Chuck Muth is President and CEO of Citizen Outreach and a professional political consultant. Mr. Muth is a professional campaign trainer, a newsletter publisher and talk-show host who regularly appears on political TV and radio programs.

Sunday

Muth's Truths, 10/3/04


CONGRESS FIDDLES WHILE TOBACCO BILL BURNS

Members of Congress will soon return to their districts, hit the campaign trail, kiss some babies and tell more whoppers than Joe Isuzu and Al Gore. And it’ll be interesting to see what kind of tangled web they weave over this mess of a tobacco buy-out bill.


A while back, Congress passed legislation which ultimately was ruled illegal by the World Trade Organization. This resulted in U.S. businesses being harshly penalized by other nations. It is universally accepted and agreed that Congress MUST do something SOON to fix their own mistake on this, and there’s a corporate tax bill pending right now, FSC/ETI (pronounced in Washington-speak as “Fisk E.T.I.”) which would, indeed, repair the damage.

But, as Congress is wont to do, Republicans and Democrats have decided to add a host of unrelated provisions to this “must pass” bill in hopes of getting those provisions passed...provisions which otherwise would probably never pass on their own.

For Republicans, it’s a plan to pay tobacco growers a one-time fee to eliminate government price-supports and return tobacco farming to the free market. In other words, make government smaller.

Democrats, for their part, have tacked on a provision which would grant the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) new authority to “regulate” all tobacco products. In other words, make government bigger.

Go figure.

The House passed a bill without the FDA regulation provision. The Senate passed a bill with it. Both houses of Congress are now in “conference” to figure out a compromise, as only Congress can. That usually means both sides will be pretty much unhappy...and you and I will get to pay for it.

But it’s starting to look like no compromise will be found this time...dooming American businesses to continued sanctions by the international community. Here’s how Democrats are predicting this matter will play out between now and election day:

The House/Senate conference will produce a compromise bill which will NOT include new FDA regulation of tobacco. Republicans do, after all, control both houses of Congress. The compromise bill will easily pass the House...giving American businesses the relief they so desperately need, wean tobacco growers from government subsidies and keep the FDA from obtaining the power to ban tobacco products outright. Who could argue with that?

Senate Democrats, of course.

The betting is that if the compromise bill which emerges from the conference negotiations doesn’t include the new FDA regulation authority, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle and his merry band of nanny-state Democrat ninnies will filibuster the bill. For those of you who may have attended government schools, that means using the powers of the minority to block any vote at all on the bill, thus dooming it to defeat by inaction.

The Daschle Democrats have elevated such obstruction to an art form.

At that point, Republican candidates in tobacco-growing states, which desperately want the buy-out provision, will begin campaigning against their Democrat opponents for blocking the buy-out...a potent issue down south. This is pure political hardball, and it appears Republicans may have finally learned how to play the game. Democrats have been doing this sort of thing forever.

For example, let’s say there’s a bill upon which almost everyone agrees. But then somebody like Ted Kennedy comes along and attaches a controversial provision, such as raising the minimum wage. Democrats know Republicans won’t accept the minimum wage hike, so the bill dies. Democrats then hit the campaign trail blasting Republicans for not passing the original bill which would have passed if not for Ted Kennedy and his poison pill provision. They wanted the issue more than they wanted the bill.

Now that shoe is on the other foot.

It ain’t pretty. It ain’t fair. And it ain’t good government. But it’s our government. And it’s still the best in the world...which gives you a pretty good idea of exactly how screwed up the rest of the world is.

Maybe now would be a good time to do better. Maybe Congress will see the light. Maybe Congress will pass the corporate tax bill on its own with no tobacco provisions whatsoever. Maybe Congress will agree to deal with the issues of the buyout and FDA regulation separately next year. Maybe pigs will fly.

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