Gingrich: Tobacco Deal Shouldn't Enrich Lawyers
House speaker suggests a cap on attorney fees from tobacco settlement
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Oct. 2) -- Fresh from attacking the IRS, House Speaker Newt Gingrich has another easy target in his sights: lawyers -- specifically, the ones who stand to benefit from the gargantuan tobacco settlement.
"The way the settlement is now proposed, there are attorneys who will not become instant millionaires ... some of them will become billionaires. And that's not a justified fee," Gingrich told reporters Wednesday.
The speaker wants the Clinton Administration to propose legislation that would cap attorneys' compensation at a "reasonable" hourly rate, plus expenses.
Gingrich said that "literally billions of dollars, maybe $100 billion, is at stake. That could be spent on health in general and on children's health in particular."
White House spokesman Mike McCurry was noncommittal, expressing only the president's "willingness on our part to explore all the features that are necessary to get a settlement." But the speaker's idea is politically dicey for the Clinton White House, which has habitually been deferential to trial lawyers' interests.
President Bill Clinton wants changes to the proposed $368.5 billion settlement being negotiated between the tobacco companies and the 50 states' attorneys general, including fines for tobacco companies if targeted declines in teen-age smoking don't materialize.
Gingrich and other lawmakers want clarification on how Clinton would achieve his desired $1.50-a-pack hike in cigarette prices over 10 years -- from a federal tax or from allowing companies to jack up the price?
Initial terms of the settlement were reached June 20. Since then, Washington lawmakers have shown no urgency to codify the politically charged deal in legislation.
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Thursday Oct. 2, 1997
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