What does the transportation bill have to do with tobacco?
What does the transportation bill which Barack Obama is expected to sign have to do with tobacco? On the surface that seems like a silly question with the obvious answer being nothing. After all, transportation and building highways is one of the legitimate expenditures granted by the constitution in Article 1 Section 8, and transportation and tobacco are two separate issues altogether, but when it comes to the federal government nothing is quite as it seems and such is the case with the transportation bill.
Buried deep in the transportation bill was an amendment which was added to the legislation which will change the definition of cigarette manufacturers to include those who own and operate roll your own cigarette machines, effectively shutting down these small businesses all across the country.
For those who do not know: Loose tobacco is taxed at a much lower rate than cigars and cigarettes and because of this many people have opted to save money by rolling their own cigarettes and this led to a boom in the roll your own cigarettes business. Entrepreneurs went into business for themselves by purchasing rolling machines which afforded smokers with the opportunity to roll many cigarettes in minutes while paying half the price for name brand cigarettes.
Needless to say, “big tobacco” wasn’t happy about small businesses moving in on their territory and they lobbied the government to crack down on these small businesses, and let’s face it, the government doesn’t really want people to quite smoking because quite frankly the government would lose too much money. The government simply wants the people to pay more to the government for the privilege to keep smoking and because many people found a way to legally avoid paying taxes on cigarettes the government had to step in and do something about this.
So naturally the federal government was more than willing to partner with “big tobacco” to take down the little guy. The federal government and “big tobacco” are the winners here and the losers are the small business owners for they can no longer compete. And it mustn’t be forgotten that this bill was passed with bipartisan support, the Republicans are just as guilty as are the Democrats for putting tax revenues and special interests ahead of the people.
We can debate whether or not this was a good idea, and we can debate whether or not this was a loophole which should have been closed, but the fact is we were never allowed to have this debate because this amendment was added to a totally unrelated bill with very little fanfare and most people probably didn’t learn about it until after the bill was passed, and that really is my biggest problem with this.
Basically what happens in Washington is this: Controversial amendments, which the sponsors would rather not force a vote on alone, are added to popular bills because it is felt that neither side would risk the public relations disaster of killing a popular bill over an obscure amendment and usually that gamble pays off. It did here just as it did with the incandescent lightbulb ban.
All bills should come to the floor for an up or down vote, and I don’t have a problem with related amendments being added to bills during the debate, but this amendment was in no way related to the transportation bill and it should have come to the floor for a vote on its own.