The Tobacco Bill: Ashes to Ashes?

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WASHINGTON: When Big Tobacco disavowed John McCain's tobacco legislation, its loudest gripe was that greedy Washington politicians were turning what was once a fair deal between the industry and the states into a $516 billion federal shakedown. Well, the Marlboro Man may have the last laugh: The same political squabbling that created the McCain monster looks set to destroy it.

"Right now the bill looks awfully close to being killed," said TIME congressional correspondent John Dickerson. "There are procedural battles, political battles, even parliamentary battles -- precious few of them actually have to do with tobacco itself."

Republicans think the bill looks too much like tax-and-spend liberalism; they want to add tax cuts. Democrats like the bill as is; they're trying -- so far in vain -- to close debate and force a vote on the existing version. It's a good old-fashioned Senate stalemate, and suddenly the tobacco industry has something to chuckle about: An ugly Beltway bill is headed for an ugly Beltway funeral.