THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AND CHIEF OF STAFF ERSKINE BOWLES
The Briefing Room
6:15 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. The vote that was just completed in the Senate clearly shows that a bipartisan majority of 57 clearly supports tough legislation to protect the children of this country from tobacco. Needless to say, I am very disappointed that a Republican minority blocked the legislation from being voted on.
Today, like every other day, 3,000 young children start to smoke, and 1,000 of them will have their lives shortened because of it. If more members of the Senate would vote like parents rather than politicians we could solve this problem and go on to other business of the country.
I have been working for three years now to protect our children from the dangers of tobacco. I want the tobacco lobby and its allies on Capitol Hill to know that from my point of view this battle is far from over.
Q Sir, what's your strategy, what do you do now?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, the Senate has to come back to it, but they have to do it in a hurry if we're going to act. After all, we only have six weeks until the August recess -- not quite that -- and then we have only a month or so when they come back, the month of September, because they will, doubtless, want to go home in October to campaign.
So the parameters of this bill are well-known; what has to be done to get a bill that can not only pass, but can actually be effective not only in raising the price of cigarettes, but in limiting advertising and having smoking cessation programs and giving the public health money out there, the research money we need. Everybody knows what has to be done.
We showed a lot of flexibility here in trying to work with the members of the Senate. We had a tax cut in there to deal with the marriage penalty for people with incomes under $50,000. We had some more anti-drug money in there. The lawyer fee issue was addressed in the amendment most recently adopted. We can do this, and we need to do it and do it promptly.
There is not a lot of time, but I think it would be a great mistake for those who believe that because of the $40 million ad campaign by the tobacco industry which has gone unanswered and which has a lot of things in it which are just false, that they now have a free ride on this to walk away from 1,000 lives a day. We don't have a free ride to walk away from 1,000 lives a day. And I believe we can do it.
Q Is it really dead? Isn't it really dead, Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I don't think it is dead.
Q You were depending on it for a lot of tax revenue, Mr. President. If you don't get it, where do you find that revenue?
THE PRESIDENT: That's not entirely true. It is true that a lot of the things that I think should be funded in terms of giving this money back to the states, who are out a lot of money because they spent a fortune treating people on tobacco-related illnesses, could be used to help children and families with things like child care. The Senate voted for that, and I thought it was a good amendment.
But the most important thing here is not that. The most important thing is to protect children from the dangers of tobacco. And that is at the nub of this and that is what needs to be put front and center. And if they will do it, we can still do this. But they have to hurry. There's not a lot of time.
Q Mr. President --
THE PRESIDENT: Mr. Bowles is handling all the details of this, and I think I should let him come up and talk about it.
Q Mr. President, do you think there will be political consequences for the people if this bill fails?
THE PRESIDENT: I certainly hope there will be, and there should be. I think that there are those who believe there won't be because the public has been treated to $40 million of unanswered advertising by their allies. And they believe that the opinion that may be held in certain selected districts or whatever today is the one that will hold at election day. I don't believe that's true. I think when the American people understand fully what has been going on, they won't like what they see and they will be worried about these children. They nearly always -- the public almost always gets it right when they have enough time, and they've got plenty of time.
So I think we need to do this.
Q Mr. President, was it necessary to increase --
Q -- stay in session, and will you forego your own vacation in order to get this done? Would you forego your vacation?
MR. BOWLES: Sam, I'd be delighted to forego my vacation. As a matter of fact, seriously, I talked to Senator Lott today, and I told Senator Lott that we would be here in the month of August, that we would be here in the month of October, and we were prepared to move forward with this bill and continue to fight at every step of the process.
Q Is he the villain of the piece?
MR. BOWLES: I think there are 42 villains.
Q You're right, it was a serious question, and you answered it seriously. But the President could call on the Senate to stay in session until it took this bill up again and passed some version of the bill that could be sent to the House.
MR. BOWLES: We're going to continue both in the House and in the Senate to fight for passage of this bill. You're going to see this bill attached to almost every piece of legislation that comes down the pike. You're going to see us try to get the Hansen-Meehan bill discharged in the House of Representatives. We're going to continue to move forward with this bill because it's what the American people want, and 57 senators voted for it today.
Q What do you think really then stopped it cold in its tracks now?
MR. BOWLES: I think this is what I believe is the worst of Washington. I think politics stopped this thing cold.
Q Well, what do you say, Mr. Bowles, to those who say there was a $350 billion deal that the state attorneys general made, and that in the process of getting legislation you added on another $150 billion which made it simply intolerable to the tobacco industry?
MR. BOWLES: I think that's incorrect. I think what we did was make this bill have a higher probability of doing something about stopping teenage smoking. Every study I've seen has shown that you need at least $1.10 increase in the price of tobacco in order to do something serious about stopping kids from smoking. So this bill that we had had full FDA authority in there; it had $1.10 increase in the price of tobacco; it had the right kinds of things in there to stop marketing to kids; and it had the right things in there to lessen the chance that kids would have access to tobacco. So it had the kinds of things that we felt were important.
In addition, it had what the Republicans said they needed. It had the anti-drug provisions; it had a tax cut. There's only one reason that this thing didn't pass, and that's that $40 million that the tobacco industry spent on it and the $12 million worth of campaign contributions that they had made.
Q Instead of getting a bill that the tobacco industry would have supported, that would have generated $350 billion in revenue, that would have done all the things on advertising, you wind up with nothing.
MR. BOWLES: Oh, I don't think it's any chance that we're going to wind up with nothing. I think they have made a clear mistake. I think the American people will demand this happen. I have not met a single parent that wants their kids to begin to smoke.
Q So you think November is going to show the results of this?
MR. BOWLES: I certainly hope so.
Q How does this affect the balanced budget?
Q The President said the ad campaign has gone unanswered. Why has it gone unanswered? Why haven't you responded?
MR. BOWLES: The industry has spent $40 million advertising. We have tried to do the best we could with the limited resources we had to come forward and get the message across to the American people. We have used the bully pulpit. The public health community has come forward with some ads, as you know, in order to educate people about this. We simply could not compete with that $40 million that the industry chose to spend.
Q So your basic strategy now is to attach it to every bill that goes forward?
MR. BOWLES: We're going to try to attach it to every major piece of legislation that comes forward. We're going to make this a fight to the finish.
Q Mr. Bowles, does the tobacco industry have reason to celebrate tonight? Has its investment paid off?
MR. BOWLES: I think the American people have a reason to really be sad tonight. I really do. I think every parent in this room should really be upset.
Q Did you and the President work the phones today, lobbying members of the Senate to try to --
MR. BOWLES: Yes, we did. And I think that's how we got 14 -- it's one of the reasons we got 14 Republicans to vote yes.
Q Approximately, how many senators did you talk to and the President talked to?
MR. BOWLES: I talked to a lot; I think the President said he talked to 10. I can't remember the exact number I talked to.
Q -- Republican Caucus today that led to this strategy of the defeat of the bill?
MR. BOWLES: I certainly think so.
Q Mr. Bowles, how will this affect the balanced budget?
MR. BOWLES: I don't think it's going to have a material effect on the balanced budget, Wolf. I think if you look at the budget we put together, the revenues that are going to come in here were going to be spent for research, they were going to be spent for counter-advertising and smoking cessation programs and public health. They were going to be spent for tobacco farmers and also going to be spent -- money going back to the states. And that's money now that we will not have, and therefore, we will not spend it.
Q Weren't you also going to spend money on child care?
MR. BOWLES: The child care money was in the money going to the states. There was about $25 billion going to the states; some of that was child care money. There was about -- Bruce, correct me if my numbers are wrong -- about $13 billion going for research, about $13 billion going for smoking cessation counter-advertising and public health, and about $10 billion going to the tobacco farmers. And I think that's roughly the whole amount of money.
Q Are you willing to come down on the overall number a little bit to try to meet the tobacco industry halfway?
MR. BOWLES: We have spent so long on this bill. We got it through the Senate committee on a vote by 19-1; we got 57 senators, well over a majority of the senators to vote for this thing. This is the right bill. This is the right construction. And we're going to go forward with this bill and try to get it passed.
Q Is this an indication, sir, that the President may have lost some clout with Congress because of his legal and personal problems?
MR. BOWLES: I don't see how. He got 57 senators to vote for him.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 6:28 P.M. EDT