Tobacco State Lawmakers Push Buyout Plan

Trying to help out farmers suffering from the loss in revenues, tobacco-state lawmakers tried Thursday to convince fellow House members to support a $7 billion buyout plan that had been opposed by Senate Democrats seeking more authority for the Food and Drug Administration (search).

GOP leaders told House Republicans over the weekend that they could make a final plea to attach the measure — paid for by cigarette companies — to an end-of-the-year spending bill.

Tobacco farmers' incomes have been stagnating under a Depression-era government allotment program that set strict price and production controls over tobacco. Farmers say they want to replace the program with a more market-oriented system that would let them decide whether to continue growing tobacco or to move on to other crops.

Earlier this fall, the deal appeared kaput after Senate Democrats said they would support the bill if the buyout included provisions giving the FDA more authority to regulate cigarettes. Senate sources said Thursday that they don't think anything has changed in that arena.

Some House members were attempting to condition their support for the GOP leadership's Medicare bill upon getting a pledge from House leaders that the tobacco measure would be added to the spending bill, said other congressional sources, also speaking on condition of anonymity.

Rep. Ron Lewis (search), R-Ky., said he was cautiously optimistic about the buyout's prospects, but was not surprised that some lawmakers were trying to leverage their votes for it.

"If there are members out there that are leaning one way or the other, of course they may want to say ... that it would be very helpful to them to have a tobacco buyout to go home with," said Lewis, who promised to vote for the Medicare bill no matter what happened with the buyout provisions.

Industry giant Philip Morris USA is lobbying against the proposal. The company wants any farmer buyout linked to the FDA regulation of tobacco. Other major tobacco companies oppose FDA regulation and support the stand-alone buyout plan, said Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., a leader in the effort to attach it to the spending bill.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.