A wise man once said: "In an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle class."
A message worth heeding as the Congress comes back to work today. And the President is ready to give a big speech on health reform tonight.
If our leaders learned anything over the August recess we hope it's that taxpayers are leery of any reform that costs them more money without giving them something they don't already have or need or want. Regular, hard-working folks aren't in a position to pay more for much right now - especially if there’s no value, benefit or priority in it for them.
Well, while there are some good, sound ideas for improving health care out there by lawmakers in both parties (ideas that get to lowering costs, for example), the activists have been busy with a singular focus on pushing for a tax on soft drinks and other beverages to pay for health care reform. So, heading into the next phase of this important debate, it might behoove lawmakers to keep a few facts in mind when it comes to this idea.
1.) A soft drink tax simply won't work. There's a book of evidence supporting this point. Just a few highlights. A.) West Virginia and Arkansas are two states with excise taxes on soda like the one being talked about in Washington. Those states have the fifth- and sixth-highest obesity rates in America, according to the CDC. B.) This week, University of Chicago researchers concluded: "Current state-level tax rates are not found to be significantly associated with adolescent weight outcomes." C.) A George Mason University study showed that a 15-cent tax per can of soda would reduce a person's Body Mass Index by just .02 (40 to 39.98). That's not even measurable on a bathroom scale! D.) Even the leader of an American Heart Association panel that issued a study last week on childhood obesity conceded that there is "limited evidence" that a soft drink tax would work. We appreciate that piece of candor, which many activists lack, but as one can see, there's actually a great deal of real-world evidence showing that a soft drink tax won't work. Bottom line: We can't tax our way to better health. These taxes are just a façade for a money grab, pure and simple.
2.) A soft drink tax further squeezes the middle class struggling through a recession. The tax is discriminatory and regressive. The Congressional Research Service did a study showing that the tax burden would by far be borne most by those who can least afford to pay it. Furthermore, 96 percent of the tax would be paid by low-income and middle-class families - in all, those earning less than $250,000 a year. It doesn't seem wise to be taxing people's groceries in the middle of a recession. Bottom line: Didn't leaders promise not to tax the middle class in this last election?
3.) Government shouldn't tell people what to eat. The strong majority of Americans believe it is an over-reach by government to use the tax code to tell them what to eat or drink. They don't view it as government's role. It's an uninvited intrusion into basic elements of people's lives. Bottom line: Lawmakers cross this line at their own risk. Just ask leaders in New York and Maine, whose beverage tax ideas were overwhelmingly rejected by the public.
4.) A complex health system needs comprehensive solutions. You're not going to solve the complexities of health reform with a tax on soda pop. In fact, you're not even going to make a dent in the problem. Bottom line: This country's got much bigger problems if its leaders are building a new health system on such a shaky foundation as a tax on food. Seriously!
5.) It's soda pop, for Pete's sake. Like most foods, regular soft drinks have calories. Soda pop is a fun, refreshing beverage meant to be enjoyed. It's nothing more, nothing less. So the money-seeking, agenda-toting, self-proclaimed we-know-what’s-best-for-everyone-busybodies should stop making soda out to be more than what it is. Our industry certainly doesn't. The compendium of science says all calories count, regardless of the food source, when it comes to maintaining one's weight. That's irrefutable. And it drives the advocates crazy. Bottom line: You can be a healthy person and drink regular soda. Tens of millions of Americans are proof.
In summary, it's not hard to let your imagination go if Congress and the President pursue a tax on soda, juice drinks, sports drinks and other beverages as some propose. (That's right - this tax isn't just on soda but on any beverage with even a little bit of sugar in it, including teas and juices.)
If government starts taxing simple pleasures like soda, where does its long arm stop once it realizes that didn't work? Tax cheeseburgers? Fries? Shakes? All products with sugar? Any products with any taste? Evidence shows it still won't change people's behaviors; just burden them with more taxes.
Let's focus on improving the health care system with meaningful and sustainable solutions -- not with distracting one-offs like taxing people's food. People have enough burdens right now. Leave them alone.
As the wise man said: "In an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle class."