Senate Panel Rejects Funds for Tobacco Lawsuit
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Senate panel on Tuesday narrowly defeated an effort by Democrats to provide money President Clinton wants to prepare a lawsuit against tobacco companies to recoup billions of dollars in smoking-related health care costs.
In a 14-14 tie vote, the Senate Appropriations Committee denied $20 million the Justice Department says it needs to prepare a lawsuit against the tobacco industry, which Republicans said could set a precedent for the federal government to target unpopular industries.
The vote was on almost straight party lines, with Sen. Arlen Specter of New York the only Republican who supported providing the money.
``What this is is taxation through litigation of a legal although extremely unpopular industry,'' said Kentucky Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell.
The American Lung Association said in a statement it was disappointed the Senate Committee would ``grant Big Tobacco special protection from legal action on behalf of this nation's taxpayers.''
In the same bill to spend $36.6 billion to run the Commerce, Justice and State departments the next fiscal year, starting Oct. 1, the committee also rejected Clinton's request to boost Washington's share of United Nations' peacekeeping operations from $500 million to $740 million next year.
Clinton has threatened to veto the House-passed version of the Commerce-Justice-State spending bill, which also blocked additional funds for the United Nations but gave the Justice Department leeway to use money from other federal agencies to prepare the tobacco lawsuit.
As Congress worked to move its bills to fund the government next fiscal year, the Senate also approved $15.5 billion to run public lands programs after rejecting a bid by Oklahoma Republican Sen. Don Nickles to force the president to get approval from Congress before designating land as a national monument.
Clinton has moved to protect millions of acres of environmentally important lands by declaring them national monuments, which Republicans from western states have branded as an unprecedented land grab.
By proclaiming the federal lands to be monuments, the government can block mining, logging and other activities that otherwise would be allowed.
The House rejected a similar attempt to curb the president's powers, as Republicans from urban areas were increasingly reluctant to oppose Clinton on environmental issues.
Also on Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee passed a $29 billion bill to fund the Treasury Department and general government operations, which Clinton threatened to veto.
Clinton said the bill did not provide enough money for the Internal Revenue Service to carry out reforms that Congress ordered and fell short on a number of his law enforcement and counter-terrorism initiatives.