Tobacco State Lawmakers Advance Federal Buyout Bill

Relying on election-year politics and old-fashioned vote trading, lawmakers from the tobacco growing states of Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia managed to get a tobacco-buyout measure attached to a corporate tax bill, the Associated Press reported June 4.

Under the bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, $9.6 billion would be paid out over five years to farmers who leave the federal quota program. The program sets limits on how much tobacco farmers can grow each year.

Farmers have been pleading for a buyout for years because the government has been reducing tobacco quotas to address declining cigarette sales and greater dependence on cheaper imports.

Thomas said the committee would act on the bill soon and send it immediately to the full House.

In the 2000 presidential election, Bush won the tobacco-growing states, but Bush recently said the federal quota system is fine as is, sparking anger among farmers.

Rep. Ron Lewis (R-Ky.) said the White House assisted in negotiating inclusion of the buyout in the tax bill.

According to Rep. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the White House is willing to sign a tobacco buyout if it ends all price and production controls and has an acceptable buyout amount. The White House is opposed to attaching a provision to the buyout bill that gives the Food and Drug Administration authority over tobacco regulation, he added.

The U.S. Senate has already passed the corporate tax bill. Leading senators have said that they would not approve a tobacco buyout without FDA regulation attached.

“It would be especially wrong to finance a buyout with taxpayer dollars but not regulate tobacco companies in selling their dangerous products,” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).