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WASHINGTON -- Years of debate about whether the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should regulate tobacco and whether tobacco interests should get a buyout because of the sinking value of their crop will be put to the test today as a congressional conference committee decides which provisions to include in a major corporate tax relief bill, reported the Washington Post.
The issue has become the subject of hardball politics, and advocates of FDA regulation are worried Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), the committee chairman, at the request of the Republican House leadership, will present a bill that includes the $9.6 billion tobacco buyout but not authorization for FDA tobacco regulation.
In addition, supporters of FDA regulation fear the conference report will include rules that will make it very difficult to add FDA regulation without putting passage of the entire tax bill at risk. The bill is loaded with tax breaks and projects supported by many legislators.
As a result, the backers of FDA regulation worked overtime during the weekend to line up support for saving what they see as their best chance to provide federal oversight of cigarettes and other tobacco products.
"FDA regulation of tobacco is the most important public health bill to come up in quite a few years, and the way to pass it is by twinning it with the tobacco buyout," said Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio). "A de-linking of the two is simply intolerable and will occur over my dead body."
A bill linking FDA regulation to the tobacco buyout was introduced this summer by DeWine and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and passed the Senate in July by a 78-15 vote. No similar bill has been put up for a vote in the House.
DeWine and others expect the chairman's initial bill in the conference committee to include the buyout but not FDA regulation. For the bill to be released for a vote in the Senate, however, a majority of Senate conferees have to accept it. Whether they would remains unclear. All the Democrats on the conference committee voted in favor of the DeWine-Kennedy bill, as did at least four of the Republicans.
If the bill does come out of the conference committee with the tobacco buyout but not FDA regulation, DeWine and Kennedy have indicated they will try to stop its passage on the Senate floor, possibly through a filibuster. "Senator Kennedy reserves all his options regarding this bill," spokesman Jim Manley said.