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Durbin: Raise Cigarette Tax to Pay for More NIH Funding

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) proposed raising the federal tax on tobacco products as a way to pay for additional National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding.

“Newt Gingrich can write all of the articles he wants in the New York Times about how we need this research. The difficulty is to get the Republicans to the point of figuring out how to pay for it,” Durbin said during a lecture at Georgetown University.

“I’m pretty forthcoming on this – tax and spend and so forth – I’m pretty forthcoming. I would raise the federal tax on tobacco products – $1 a package and it would pay for half of the research I just talked about and discourage young people from using tobacco products. It’s the T-word for many of the folks on the other side of the aisle and they can’t touch it so we’ve got to find an avenue, a path to get there on this,” he added.

Durbin, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, also emphasized the need for congressional action on climate change.

“The most dangerous consequences of this hostility toward government and constructive public policy by far is climate change. Look at what is happening. California is struggling through the worst water shortage in history. It has less than a year’s worth of groundwater left,” Durbin said.

“If you think we are at a crisis point, unfortunately, there’s likely to be more to come. A new report by scientists from NASA, Columbia and Cornell warns that about half of the country from Kansas west to California has an 80 percent chance of being hit by a mega drought during the second half of the century,” he added.

Durbin claimed more and more private companies are demanding action to limit greenhouse gases, comparing “client deniers” to those who doubted the link between smoking and cancer.

“The Tea Party takes marching orders from two billionaire brothers who have made their fortune selling fossil fuels – the Koch brothers. They’ve spent millions to create an industry peddling climate change doubt and denial. By the way, a lot of these scientists who are now climate deniers and doubters are the same folks who swore for years there was no link between cigarette smoking and cancer,” he said.

“Now the Koch brothers are vowing to spend $900 million of their own money in the next election cycle to elect candidates who agree with them. Future generations are going to look back at this time and ask of us, ‘What were you thinking? Why did your close eyes and do nothing as the polar ice caps melted and great rivers ran dry?’”

He also addressed the negotiations with Iran, calling a deal critical since both countries are speaking to each other for the first time in 35 years.

“I don’t know that we are going to convert Iran,” he said. “David Brooks is dismissive, saying ‘they’ll never change, they’re a terrorist nation.’ It’s okay to be cynical and skeptical about the situation but we negotiated with the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War when they had 12,000 nuclear warheads pointed at us and we didn’t expect them to forsake communism to sit at the table and try to contain that threat.”

Durbin said America should seize the opportunity and try to move on to “the next question” like what will happen in Yemen and Syria.

“Iran plays a major part there as well so I think we have to take small steps,” he said.