With the time approaching for final decisions, senior Republicans are openly quarreling over how far they can go in penalizing the tobacco industry for teenage smoking and cigarette-related health problems.
Nearly all Democrats in Congress are demanding the toughest possible anti-tobacco legislation, while the tobacco industry has threatened to fight any bill it thinks harms its long-term economic interests. Many Republicans are caught in the middle.Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., the author of a $516 billion package of taxes and regulatory measures that is heading to the Senate floor, said Sunday that something close to his bill will eventually pass for reasons both patriotic and "a little crass."
"There's a lot of money that is going to be spent there, and politicians are very attached to that," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
But Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said on NBC that McCain would fail because his bill is too punitive and "you'll have bankruptcy, you'll have black market, you'll have something that doesn't work."
Hatch, who last week called McCain's legislation "pitiful," has his own $398 billion package that is closer to the $368 billion settlement reached last June between the tobacco industry, state attorneys general and public health advocates.
McCain shot back that "there is not five votes for what Senator Hatch just asked for, and that was to go easier on the tobacco companies."
McCain's bill, which was approved by the Commerce Committee on a 19-1 vote, was crafted after the White House and public health organizations said the June deal, which gives the industry some immunity from future lawsuits, was too lenient. But the industry maintains that McCain's legislation would drive them out of business, and it has threatened to fight such provisions as limits on advertising.
Sen. John Chafee of Rhode Island, who has proposed his own tough anti-tobacco bill, urged his fellow Republicans to be civil and work together. "Attacking each other or making this a partisan battle just takes Congress' eye off the anti-tobacco ball," he said in a statement to The Associated Press.