As the Senate Finance Committee considers potential funding options for health care reform, Maine Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe offers lessons from her home state when it comes to taxing beverages to pay for health care programs.
Last year, the governor and legislature in Maine voted to impose a major tax hike on beverages to pay for the state's health care reform. Then, on the November ballot, the people of Maine used a "people's veto" to overturn the tax by a nearly two-to-one margin. Recall, this happened on the same ballot where Mainers supported Barack Obama, who had promised to cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans and not raise taxes "one dime" on people making less than $250,000.
That vote wasn't lost on Sen. Snowe, who is a member of the Senate Finance Committee, which is tasked with an admittedly tough job of providing meaningful health care reform at an affordable price.
Besides the lessons of her home state, Sen. Snowe offers some quite pragmatic concerns about a beverage tax at the federal level.
Sen. Snowe told the Lewiston, Maine, Sun Journal that a soft drink tax would not provide a stable, consistent source of funding. And that could lead to a slippery slope of other consumer products being singled out for taxation.
"I just think it sets a bad precedent. Where do you draw the line?" the senator told the Sun Journal, adding that there doesn't seem to be much support for it among other members. Indeed, a couple weeks ago, the ranking member of the committee, Sen. Charles Grassley, also told his home state reporters of Iowa that he opposed the soft drink tax as well.
Committee Chairman Max Baucus and the rest of the members of his committee are committed to delivering health care reform. We certainly support that cause as the system needs modernization. We also believe any reforms should be meaningful and paid for in a sustainable and fair manner.
We continue to offer the national School Beverage Guidelines as an example of a meaningful way to address health care concerns, as our industry works to cut calories in schools by changing the beverage mix. Thus, we're working with educators to reinforce the importance of balancing calories consumed with calories burned. This will give students the skills to balance calories for a lifetime. A tax won't teach them anything. Obviously, the School Beverage Guidelines aren't going to solve the health care problem. But it is a strong example of a public-private partnership that is making a difference in its part of society. It's a model of an approach that works, with real outcomes, versus a model that is simply a money grab with no lasting impact.
We hope this thoughtful committee continues to take the deliberate and pragmatic approach as it works to improve our nation's health care system. By doing so, they'll create meaningful and lasting change that will benefit all Americans for generations.