During a House Oversight Subcommittee hearing, Congressman John Sarbanes (D-Md.) denounced the corrosive influence of wealthy and well-connected special interests, who pushed the Trump Administration to abruptly abandon plans to address the youth tobacco epidemic.
“The problem, and what I think people are fed up with across the country, is that their government, this government, won’t tackle important issues without getting permission from special interests,” said Congressman Sarbanes. “I think that’s what’s playing out here – I’ll just be very candid with you, I’m not asking you to comment on it.”
Sarbanes continued: “We’re facing a youth tobacco crisis. Two decades of progress in reducing youth smoking is being reversed almost overnight. The president promised to act quickly – promises to do something to protect American kids from these dangerous products. But as soon as he says he’ll take action, here come the lobbyists, the influencers. And suddenly, this particular ban is in purgatory. It’s not happening. And the impression I get – and I think a lot of people in the public, when they read a headline one day and then in 72 hours it’s completely flipped around – is that the tobacco industry lobbyists are calling the shots. And it’s not public health officials, unfortunately, it’s not as it should be, an agency like the FDA leaning in to protect consumers and fulfilling its mission in every possible way, because of this influence-peddling that goes on.”
Sarbanes concluded: “So it’s just another long list of examples of what’s broken about this place. And the public gets this. They may not understand all of the intricacies of how influence flows – through the executive branch, through Congress, etc. – but they can feel in their gut that policy’s getting made up here for a group of very powerful people and not for them. We’re going to have to fix this in so many arenas, but certainly where it comes to protecting the health of our kids.”
As Chair of the Democracy Reform Task Force, Congressman Sarbanes authored H.R. 1, the For the People Act – a historic package of reforms to clean up corruption in Washington, expose secret foreign money in our politics, crack down on lobbyists, strengthen election security, protect the right to vote and return power back to the American people with clean, citizen-owned elections. H.R. 1 would fight back against the kind of special-interest influence that held sway over the Trump Administration and halted efforts to tackle the youth tobacco epidemic.
H.R. 1 passed the U.S. House of Representatives on March 8, 2019. The bill currently sits in the U.S. Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has refused to bring it to the Senate floor for an up or down vote.