Well, as promised and expected, Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest put on the table using beverage taxes to pay for health care reform during a Senate Finance Committee Roundtable yesterday.
As Congress works to come up with billions of dollars for an ambitious health care program, all and any ideas that would tax people in a variety of ways remain a real possibility. Consumers beware.
But, Jacobson and his tax crowd got off to a rough start yesterday. First, the Senate Finance Committee barely gave him much attention, focusing more on the other dozen-plus panelists talking about serious ways to reform and pay for improved health care. Ideas that will actually make an impact for people.
When Jacobson did get his brief moment in front of the microphone, the committee chairman didn't give him much time, cutting him off to question whether CSPI's ideas were "politically palatable" before then moving on to the next panelist.
Other reactions in Washington yesterday around the idea of a soda tax:
Sen. Charles Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, was asked earlier in the day by reporters whether the soda tax has any chance of getting through. His response: "No. I think, quite frankly, the only reason it's being brought up is to get it shot down early so it doesn't become part of the debate. I don't think it's going to have any legs at all."
Rep. John Boehner, the leader of House Republicans, put out several quotes from President Obama reminding the media of his commitment that a family earning less than $250,000 a year will not see their taxes increase a single dime.
Later in the day, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs wasn't wavering from that commitment. While confessing to reporters to being a good consumer of a certain soft drink, he begged off discussing specific funding proposals being tossed out. But, Mr. Gibbs did say this when asked if health care reform could be done without any increase in taxation: "I think that - well, the President discussed in the campaign certain ways to pay for health care reform that included an increase in taxes on the very wealthy."
If you peruse the reader comments to many of the stories posted in major newspapers yesterday, as well as blog posts, they again reflect a strong disdain for government using the tax code to tell people what to eat or how to feed their children. Not to mention great skepticism that a tax would have any impact on health care, but is actually just a money grab.
A few of our favorites. Tom wrote in the Wall Street Journal blog: "Another government money grab. Another mother (gov) knows all act in order to take away from individual sensibilities, while robbing corporate america in the name of "saving your children". When will America wake up and be responsible for themselves. Please get government out of my refrigerator."
And Indeptex4 quoted Margaret Thatcher in his post on the CBS News blog: "The end of Socialism is when you run out of other people's money."
Clearly, people aren't looking to be taxed for their beverages or other consumer goods - as the leaders of New York and Maine have already learned in the past six months when their tax schemes failed.
But, the battle remains and taxpayers must stay vigilant. Prominent Senate Democrat and health care advocate Tom Harkin of Iowa told Bloomberg news yesterday that he supports a tax on soft drinks and junk food. And Democrats like Sen. Harkin control the Congress right now, not the Republicans.
Over the next few months, lawmakers are going to be scrambling to find money to pay for their ambitious health care ideas. At some point, they'll likely come looking to your pockets as some started to yesterday. So again, consumers beware.