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Clinton Woos Tobacco Farmers as Companies Throw in The Towel

By Ceci Connolly
The Washington Post

President Clinton ventured into tobacco territory Thursday to assure skeptical farmers he will do his "dead-level best" to pass legislation this year that both reduces youth smoking and protects tobacco growers' livelihoods.

One day after the nation's leading cigarette manufacturers declared they were abandoning negotiations on Capitol Hill, Clinton said the companies may have made a political miscalculation in their struggle for survival.

"I hope they will reconsider because I am determined to get this done this year," he told students and parents packed into the gymnasium of Carroll County High School. "I don't think this is the time for threats by anybody."

His top health adviser, Bruce Reed, was even more blunt about the escalating tensions around efforts to pass America's first anti-smoking policy. Smiling, the mild-mannered Reed said: "We're at war."

The tough talk was echoed on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers from both parties vowed to pass legislation this year designed to reduce smoking by young people with or without the tobacco industry's cooperation.

"It is unfortunate that the tobacco industry has decided to walk away from negotiations before Congress has completed consideration of national tobacco legislation, but their reluctance to cooperate will have little, if any, effect on congressional action," said Rep. Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio, whom House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., picked to oversee House GOP tobacco strategy. "Children are the real issue here, not tobacco companies."

Congressional aides characterized the industry's promise to fight any tobacco legislation as a way to warn policymakers that the $516 billion price tag on a bill approved last week by the Senate Commerce Committee is as high as the companies will go.