Candy attracts kids. Honey lures bees. And Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, says he's learned how to draw support from fellow Republicans: offer national debt reduction.
So he included that as a key component of a tobacco reform bill he introduced Wednesday. It is expected to be the main such bill considered by the House and the only one given much chance of passage this year.Hansen - co-chairman of the House Anti-Smoking Caucus - said anti-tax Republicans have had a tough time supporting other reform bills that would drastically increase cigarette taxes and use the money to fund a wide variety of big government programs.
While Hansen's bill still raises taxes by $1.50 a pack over three years - or more and faster than other bills that the tobacco industry says are too extreme - he sweetens it for the GOP by using 55 percent of the money for debt reduction.
"Most of this money would go to federal debt reduction. The funds not used for debt reduction would be used to fund tobacco control programs (10 percent of proceeds) and make payments to states to settle their lawsuits (35 percent of funds)," Hansen said.
He said that is bringing support from members of both parties and may help end partisan squabbling over which party is tougher against tobacco.
The bill - cosponsored mainly by Rep. Marty Sheehan, D-Mass. - also contains some provisions sought by sponsors of other tobacco bills, many of which had been opposed and blocked by GOP leaders.
Several sponsors of those other bills threw their support Wednesday to Hansen, saying that may be the only hope of passing some tobacco legislation this year. They included Reps. Henry Waxman and Vic Fazio, D-Calif.; Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas; and Jon Fox, R-Pa.
Among the other 10 Republican cosponsors of the bill were Reps. Merrill Cook and Chris Cannon, R-Utah.
The Utahns are all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a predominantly LDS state - where abstinence from tobacco is preached. That brings little political risk for supporting such a bill.
But longtime anti-tax crusader Cook was among those especially praising Hansen for deciding to use possible windfalls from tobacco for debt reduction. "I don't think there will be any perception that this bill . . . would make government larger."
Hansen's bill was also praised in a joint statement by former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop and David A. Kessler, former director of the Food and Drug Administration.
"We are especially pleased that the bill is focused and does not divert attention to unrelated initiatives - whether new spending or tax cuts. Only when Congress stops using tobacco policy as a wrestling match over unrelated political issues will it be possible to produce tough, useful tobacco legislation. The Hansen-Meehan bill is such legislation," they said.
The bill includes all 10 major points Koop and Kessler have sought in tobacco reform.
That includes price increases to discourage youth smoking; giving the FDA full jurisdiction over tobacco; creating company-specific youth smoking reduction goals and penalties for not meeting them; international tobacco control; restrictions on second-hand smoke; and a national education campaign.
The bill also would not remove future liability by tobacco companies for future actions.
Meanwhile, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has criticized such efforts that go beyond what tobacco companies will support - say-ing passing such bills into law is unlikely without such support and would "let Big Tobacco win."
"We are simply trying to `out-tobacco' one other," Hatch said in a Senate speech Tuesday. "Comprehensive tobacco legislation is now in jeopardy."