A wide-ranging tax bill was modified in a House-Senate conference committee Wednesday in a way Iowa Senator Tom Harkin calls “a disgrace.” Harkin, a democrat, says several key elements were stripped from the legislation by the republicans in power. Harkin’s amendment was removed which would have revoked most of the new Bush administration overtime pay regulations. He says up to six-million workers will lose their time-and-a-half overtime pay under the new rules, if they’re allowed to stand. Senator Chuck Grassley, a republican, says the bill has many good elements for Iowans, including updated tax law for helping agricultural co-ops, income averaging for farmers hit by the “alternative minimum tax,” and it creates a biodiesel income tax credit. Another portion of the bill that was stripped would have granted the F-D-A the power to regulate tobacco, which Harkin says is “Christmas in October for special interests” and a great loss for families and the health of children.Harkin says “Big tobacco still has enormous power in this town and they used that power to crush the Senate’s provision giving F-D-A authority to regulate tobacco. This is truly a sweetheart deal for tobacco growers and cigarette makers.” Harkin says keeping the F-D-A out of the loop will enable tobacco companies to lure more people, especially kids, into smoking. Harkin says two-thousand U-S kids get hooked on tobacco daily which he blames on clever marketing of the products by cigarette companies. He says 250-thousand Americans die every year from tobacco-related illnesses.On another topic, Harkin says natural gas users may be alarmed to learn about the new financial forecasts for the season ahead. A study projects residential heating costs will soar to more than one-thousand dollars on average for the season, a rise of between 130 to 270 dollars. Harkin, a democrat, says a larger supply of natural gas would bring the prices down, but an effort to boost resources from Alaska is being blocked by the republican administration. Harkin says gas companies in Oklahoma and Texas oppose bringing Alaskan natural gas into the lower 48 states via a new pipeline because it would reduce prices and profits. Harkin asks “Guess who’s siding with the oil and gas companies in Texas and Oklahoma? Bush and Cheney. Bingo.”
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