Soft drink industry hopes tax idea loses its fizz

One idea to help pay for health care reform may be hard to swallow for Coke drinkers and the soft drink industry.

Congress plans to discuss a tax on sweetened soft drinks that are often blamed for helping cause health problems like obesity and tooth decay in the first place.

Not surprisingly, companies like Atlanta-headquartered Coca-Cola Co. are sour on the potential of a so-called "sin" tax on their products.

"It's an over-reach when government uses the tax code to tell (people) what to eat and drink," said Kevin Keane, senior vice president of the American Beverage Association. Officials from Coca-Cola declined to comment, instead referring questions to Keane's group.

A soda tax is one of many ideas a Senate committee plans to discuss in a closed-door meeting today as it begins considering how to pay for President Barack Obama's proposed overhaul of the nation's health care system.

Advocacy groups, such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest, are pushing the idea.

Passing such a tax won't be easy, however. Previous attempts by states to tax soft drinks have come up flat.

The ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley, deemed a soda tax a non-starter before it even bubbles up for discussion.

"I think, quite frankly, the only reason it's being brought up is to get shot down early so it doesn't become part of the debate," Grassley told reporters. "I don't think it's going to have any legs at all."

Other more viable options before Congress include limiting or eliminating tax-free flexible spending and health savings accounts; reducing tax breaks for some employers and major insurers; and extending Medicare payroll taxes to state and local government employees who are currently exempt. A tax increase on alcoholic beverages is also on the table.

Though the soda tax idea didn't come from the White House, U.S. Rep. Tom Price, a Roswell Republican, didn't hesitate to pour blame on the Obama Administration.

"If you came up with a list of the top 200 things in this nation that could be taxed, this administration wouldn't miss any of them," Price said.