Clinton planned today to offer "general principles" _ but no specifics _ on what he expects in legislation enacting a settlement between states and the tobacco industry. That eliminates any chance of Congress taking up the matter this year, because Republican leaders have said they want details from Clinton before they act.
Still, Clinton clung Tuesday to hopes that lawmakers might change their minds and consider tobacco legislation, although he resigned himself to waiting "to do it right."
"I don't think it's dead," the president told reporters. "We ought to get this legislation through Congress as quickly as we can. ... We'll do some consulting to see what the most productive way to get legislation in the hopper is."
The tobacco settlement, brokered with White House involvement after weeks of negotiations, is designed to settle lawsuits brought by state attorneys general seeking to recoup smoking-related health care costs.
Clinton has not endorsed the $368 billion settlement, saying it is flawed. Under its conditions, cigarette makers would have raised prices only about 62 cents a pack to contribute toward an annual settlement payment of $15 billion. If youth smoking fails to drop by 30 percent in five years, the industry could then be fined an additional $2 billion.
The one detail Clinton was expected to propose today demands that Congress set annual settlement payments from the tobacco industry high enough that, when coupled with fines for failing to meet teen-smoking goals, cigarette prices would increase by $1.50 per pack.
"I want to do what is necessary to protect children's health particularly, and the public health in general," Clinton said.
The federal cigarette tax is now 24 cents a pack. It will rise to 34 cents in 2000 and 39 cents in 2002 under legislation passed in July.
The Clinton proposal pleased Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who said a $1.50-per-pack price increase is "the best and quickest way" to reduce teen smoking. "The smoke signal from the administration is very encouraging," he said.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., said he would propose legislation that would slap a $1.50 tax on each pack of cigarettes immediately, to provide funds to be divided between states and public health programs rather than collecting that money from tobacco companies.
"I intend to introduce the people's alternative that doesn't rely on the industry at all," Lautenberg said in a statement Tuesday.
Aides have said that, to satisfy Clinton, a tobacco pact must give the Food and Drug Administration full regulatory power over tobacco, reduce teen smoking by restricting advertising, sales and placement and punish tobacco companies if teen smoking goals are not met.