The Republican senator behind the anti-tobacco bill says he's confident a deal will emerge this year despite gripes from both sides that the legislation he has proposed is either too tough or not tough enough.
Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said Sunday he thinks the $506 billion bill unveiled last week can make it through Congress but will require support from everybody involved."I think we proved last week that we can get Republicans and Democrats together to form a bipartisan package, working with the administration, the public health groups and the attorneys general, and come up with something that is very viable that will attack the problem," McCain said on CNN's "Late Edition."
President Clinton and some other Democrats have suggested the measure is not strong enough, while the tobacco industry and its supporters in Congress have said the bill as it stands will drive cigarette makers out of business.
"I think maybe we are pretty much in the right spot if we are being attacked by both sides," the Arizona Republican said.
The legislation drafted by the McCain's committee would cost tobacco companies $506 billion over 25 years, increase cigarette prices by $1.10 per pack by 2003 and force changes in cigarette advertising practices. Government penalties for companies that continue to hook young smokers would be capped at $3.5 billion a year, and the industry's liability for damages in lawsuits would be capped at $6.5 billion a year.
In his weekly radio address Saturday, President Clinton indicated he thought the measure does not go far enough.
"We still have work to do on this legislation. Above all, we need to put in place tough penalties that will cost the tobacco industry if it continues to sell cigarettes to young people," Clinton said.
McCain said he was disappointed by Clinton's remarks, particularly because the president did not clarify how the bill could be strengthened.
Tobacco companies have decried the legislation, which imposes significantly higher costs and harsher penalties than a settlement between the tobacco industry and state attorneys general proposed last June. The industry says the McCain bill would bankrupt them.
McCain has cautioned cigarette makers to support the bill or face the possibility of even tougher legislation.