A new poll released last week, underscored the difficulty of expanding taxes on middle-class families and their groceries like soft drinks, juice drinks, sports drinks and vitamin or smart waters to pay for health care or any other project for that matter. This just isn't the economy where people are looking for higher costs. It would be great if health care reform nets the promised savings that some leaders are espousing. But hard-working Americans don't want money taken out of their other pocket to pay for it either. They don't see the net benefit.
In short, people seem tired of being nickeled and dimed to death - especially during a recession. Concern about the cost of health care reform and whether it will truly save families more than it costs them (and improve the quality of care) is starting to permeate the public opinion polls, per today's news.
But an interesting poll from last week gave some insight into the middle-class and independents, and perhaps, a path forward on reform; at least in terms of how not to pay for it. The McClatchy-Ipsos poll showed that people opposed higher taxes on soft drinks to pay for taxes by a nine-point margin. By contrast, they support taxing alcoholic beverages by a 20-point margin. Clearly, people view their non-alcoholic beverages as groceries - simple pleasures that meet the needs of their day. They've traditionally taken a different view of alcoholic beverages.
What's most interesting in the McClatchy-Ipsos poll is that while Americans support the need to improve our health care system, they're pretty clearly divided on the best prescription. The poll showed that 46 percent believe the primary goal should be to expand coverage, while 44 percent said the priority should be to control costs. It would obviously be great to do both. But doing both is not an easy task, or we'd have had health reform long ago.
But what's becoming more and more clear as the health care debate progresses, whether in this poll or others, is that people are worried about the cost. Particularly what will health care cost them at the end of the day. How much will it take out of their pockets every day or every week? And is that new cost worth it?
It's why lawmakers are rightfully leery to start reaching into the grocery cart and adding new, discriminatory and regressive taxes. They understand that people get it. Once Congress starts adding new taxes on one set of grocery items, other foods are in their targets to pay for the next urgent need or pet project pursued by Congress. And, the public just views it as an over-reach when Congress starts using the tax code to tell them what to eat or drink.
Again, we know health care reform is not easy. But perhaps one way to ease public concern is to draw a fence around the family pocketbook. President Obama has drawn once such fence, which he repeated last week in the context of health reform, and that's not to raise taxes on families earning less than $250,000. He's promised not to pay for health care by raising taxes on the middle-class.
A clear fence protecting the middle class may ease the public's growing concerns about health care reform and whether it will cost them more than it's worth.