The Tobacco No-Deal

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WASHINGTON: "Deal" is the wrong word for the tobacco settlement that John McCain spent all weekend wrangling through the Senate Commerce Committee, since Big Tobacco has already turned this one down.

"McCain knows he's writing a bill that's unacceptable to the industry," says TIME Washington correspondent Bruce Van Voorst. "It's a tactical move. The only haggling is between the hard-liners and the really hard-liners." The industry has already balked at one agreed-upon provision, a hike in the federal tax on cigarettes of $1.10 a pack by 2003, and as McCain and Co. hammer out provisions on liability protection, they do so knowing that the industry's demands are for far more.

"Big Tobacco's livid right now, because they can't get to any of the key senators," says Van Voorst, "and they're threatening to walk." Van Voorst expects the committee's version to emerge sometime this week. Then the real negotiations can begin.