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Congress Votes to Continue Tobacco Subsidy, Rejects Crackdown on Juvenile Cigarette Purchases


August 1997

On July 23, the U.S. Senate voted 53 to 47 against an amendment (No. 965) offered by Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-IL) to end crop insurance subsidies for tobacco, and the following day, the House concurred on a 216-209 vote. The proposed amendments were to a $50 billion spending bill (S. 1033) for the Department of Agriculture and related agencies, which passed the Senate 99 to 0. Tobacco subsidies estimated at $34 million affect about 89,000 farmers, and allow them to collect government disaster aid for crop losses due to floods, droughts and pests ("Tobacco Subsidy Survives," Washington Post, July 25, 1997, p. A16).

Proponents of the amendments argued that tobacco farmers should not be subsidized because of the health problems caused by tobacco that cost the government billions of dollars. Tobacco-state senators argued that abolishing the insurance would force many farmers to stop growing tobacco and would damage rural economies. Cigarette companies, it was said, would simply import tobacco if domestic supply was reduced. Opponents of the amendment said Congress should wait until it addresses the proposed $363 billion settlement of lawsuits before deciding the future of government subsidized tobacco.

On the same day, the Senate voted 52 to 48 to defeat an amendment (No. 968) offered by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) for a spending increase sought by President Clinton to enforce a crackdown on underage cigarette purchases.