Killing of the Tobacco Deal: Whodunit?

  • Share
  • Read Later
WASHINGTON: All through the smoke-filled halls of Big Tobacco, the little yellow-tipped stogies are being lit up in celebration: The tobacco bill is dead. And although Senate ringleader Trent Lott and his Republican followers will face a hailstorm of charges that they let GOP rebel John McCain’s bill expire because the tobacco lobbyists paid them to, it wasn’t the politicians that killed the bill. It was their voters.

"This was a very deliberate Republican decision, that they can live politically with having killed it," says TIME Washington correspondent Bruce Van Voorst. Truly, the best money the tobacco companies ever spent was not on lobbying but on a $100 million advertising campaign that rang true with the Republican constituency; the industry declared rightly that the once high-minded bill had lost its way. "The bill was originally about health and children, which was what made it so irresistible politically," says Van Voorst. "But that all got lost." The original $368 billion price tag set by the states (who offered liability protection in return) became a tax-increase-heavy $516 billion –- with nothing offered to the industry as an inducement to sign on. Add the Senate free-for-all of unrelated amendments and government pork, and suddenly small-government GOPers had a mandate from their voters to turn their backs on the whole bloated mess.

The issue isn’t dead -- Democratic congressional candidates, with the White House chiming in, will be lambasting their opponents on this one from now until November -- but the legislation certainly is, Van Voorst says. "The tobacco companies won." And America’s children, 3,000 of whom start smoking every day, have definitely lost.