Reigniting the Tobacco Deal

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WASHINGTON: Sen. John McCain, the Quixote of campaign finance reform, has a new windmill to tilt at: Getting the long-stalled tobacco deal signed into law. An early draft summary of the bill reveals that McCain's Senate Commerce Committee, needing to please Democrats, Republicans, the White House and C. Everett Koop all at once, has come up with a far harsher version of the agreement that Michael Moore and the state Attorneys General hammered out with Big Tobacco in June.

McCain's version will charge more -- $506 billion as opposed to $368 before -- and offer less liability protection against lawsuits. "That's giving the industry a conniption," says TIME Congressional correspondent Jay Carney. But McCain can deal with tobacco's demands later -- right now he's more concerned about getting bipartisan support for the bill in his own committee. And the sticking point, as negotiators prepare for a weekend of haggling, is FDA nicotine regulation. "The White House and Koop's public health camp want the FDA to have tight control over nicotine content," says Carney. "The Republicans hate regulatory agencies, and they hate regulation." Unless McCain can bridge what Carney calls "a pretty big gap," the the tobacco deal will quickly slide back into the legislative abyss.