House bill would create soda tax

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Legislation introduced Wednesday in the House would establish a tax on soda and other sugar-sweetened drinks, reprising a national debate over the role of government in shaping the diets of Americans.

The bill authored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) would amend the Internal Revenue Code to establish an excise tax on the beverage. The revenue would be directed toward prevention, treatment and related public health research.

“People want to be healthy and they want their kids to be healthy,” DeLauro said. “But we are in the midst of dual epidemics, with obesity and diabetes afflicting our nation and the related, astronomical health care costs.”

According to the legislation, the nation’s overweight and obesity problem is directly responsible for $190 billion — or as much as 10 percent — of the nation’s healthcare costs, with more than 20 percent of the costs paid publicly through the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

The bill would impose a 1 percent tax per every 4.2 grams of caloric sweetener added to beverages, and would apply to manufacturers producers and importers of the products.

Dubbed the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Tax or “SWEET” Act of 2014, the bill was introduced with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) as original co-sponsors.

A spokeswoman for DeLauro said the lawmaker is in talks with members of the Senate regarding a possible companion bill.

The push comes follows a yet-unsuccessful effort in New York to impose a ban on large-sized sodas. Originally backed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the initiative ignited a firestorm of criticism from groups that contend the government should not be inserting itself into the issue.

That argument has held up in court, with multiple decisions — including one last month — concluding the ban amounts to overreach.

A spokesman from the American Beverage Association called the tax in DeLauro's bill "an old idea" that has repeatedly failed to gain traction at the state, local or federal levels.

"People don’t support taxes and bans on common grocery items, like soft drinks," Christopher Gindlesperger said. "That’s why the public policy debate in the U.S. has moved away from taxes and bans and onto real solutions."

Gindlesperger cited the group's voluntarily steps to remove full-calorie soft drinks from schools nationwide, put calorie labels on all packaging and other measures.

Still, in pushing the federal bill, DeLauro argues that sugary drinks represent a public health issue that is fair game for Congress.

“There is a clear relationship between sugar-sweetened beverages and a host of other health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, obesity and tooth decay,” she said. “We are at a crucial tipping point and the SWEET Act will help correct the path we are currently on.”

This story was updated at 2:20 p.m. with additional information.