Sunday, May 24, 2009

Tax On Soda, Beer?

An editorial from the Wall Street Journal:

Hot dogs, potato chips, soda and beer are staples of the traditional Memorial Day cookout, but Washington wants to redesign the menu. Just in time for your neighborhood block party, the Obama Administration and Senate Finance Committee are signalling a change in your diet.

President Obama has named Thomas Frieden, the New York City health commissioner who championed a ban on artificial trans fats, as the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Frieden's campaign forced McDonald's to change the way it cooks french fries -- you may have noticed the taste -- and he has lately called for all restaurants to use less salt. Let's hope he spends at least some of his time considering flu pandemics and bioterrorism.

In any case, when Dr. Frieden arrives in Washington, he'll find an ally in Michael Jacobson, head of the Naderite Center for Science in the Public Interest. Mr. Jacobson has made a career attacking ethnic restaurants, fast-food chains and grocery manufacturers for allegedly unhealthy fare. While he may be the last guy you'd want at your barbecue, Mr. Jacobson was recently an honored guest at Senate Finance. At a hearing to brainstorm on ways to pay for Mr. Obama's new health-care entitlement, Mr. Jacobson recommended that Congress enact a 50% reduction in the salt content of America's food supply, a tax of up to one cent per ounce on soft drinks, and a tripling of the federal excise tax on beer, to roughly 16 cents a can.

Is government to be the servant of the people, or their (thigh)master? Mr. Jacobson's view of the role of government was illuminated by his gripe that since 1991 beer has been taxed at a flat $18 per barrel. "Since then, inflation has robbed the Treasury of more than one-third the value of the taxes," he said.

The committee staff was apparently listening, because a Senate Finance report released this week listed a federal beer tax increase and a new levy on soft drinks among the options for financing new health-care spending. In sum, Washington looks set to provide you with a host of new incentives to enjoy grilled veggies and a refreshing glass of water at your next cookout.

This doesn't mean that the feds are taking all the fun out of the weekend when we rightly honor Americans who have sacrificed their lives in war. After all, many Americans tune in each year to watch the Indianapolis 500 auto race, and the sport is sure to win new suburban fans now that Detroit has been ordered to make more fuel-efficient cars. We can only imagine the thrill of hearing the high-pitched whine of hybrid engines as low-emission vehicles achieve speeds exceeding 80 miles per hour. Though perhaps "the greatest spectacle in racing" will soon be presenting itself as "a sustainable activity, when appropriately balanced with carbon offsets."

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