Taxing the couch potatoes

Asking politicians whether they have enough tax money is like asking a 10-year-old boy if he’s had enough ice cream and soda pop.

Wait a minute: Could we have just stumbled on the germ of an idea, there? If Americans like to drink soda pop … of course! Why not hit the stuff with a hefty new federal tax?

“A push for new taxes on soda, beer and wine to help pay for Americans’ health care is stirring up more than just the beverage industry,” The Associated Press reported last week. “Advertisers, corn refiners — even addiction treatment centers — have mobilized their lobbyists” to fight the plan.

At the risk of belaboring the obvious, read it again.

When you go to pay your doctor’s bill, would it be a help to find more money remaining in your bank account and wallet, or less money? So how can taxing more money out of our wallets, bank accounts and grocery bills “help us pay for our health care”?

Unless, of course, the goal is to put every American on the dole.

But if we were all on the dole … who would be left to pay the taxes?

The federal government already taxes a bottle of wine at the rate of 21 cents, a six-pack of beer at 33 cents, and a fifth of hard liquor at $2.14, to which you can generally add hefty state and local taxes.

The rationale is that drinking such stuff is optional, a “luxury” — and bad for us, anyway.

We’d suggest taxing adultery, potato chips and illegal drugs if we weren’t worried about giving them ideas.

“Are they going to hit couch manufacturers?” jokes Neil Trautwein, health care lobbyist for the National Retail Federation, which opposes the plan and whose members include fast-food restaurants.

Dairy farmers and milk processors are also fighting the move, because chocolate milk would be hit. So, too, are grocers, food marketers, vending machine operators and the Corn Refiners Association, whose companies make sweet syrups that would be taxed.

Recent history is moderately encouraging. Maine voters rejected a soft drink tax last November, and New York Gov. David Paterson dropped a proposed tax on sodas earlier this year. But give them time.

No idea is bad enough not to get a tryout in Washington, eventually.

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