I have two awards to present this week—one for Chutzpah and the other for Hypocrisy.
The First Annual Chutzpah Award goes to the Beer Institute and Brewers Association. The beer merchants’ lobby “proudly announced” last week that it had lined up (lined the pockets of?) 218 members of the US House of Representatives to sponsor legislation to roll back the federal excise tax on beer.
The arrogance of the Beer industry is as palpable as the pandering of the 218 sponsors, brazenly revealed in the way they named their proposed bill. They call it the BEER Act, short for Brewers Excise and Economic Relief Act!
The bill would repeal the excise tax on beer that was enacted in 1991, the last time the Congress dared to tax beer. Because of the strength of the beer lobby, the average (real) price of beer has been declining steadily over the past 40 years. Meanwhile, for every dollar of alcohol taxes collected, federal and state governments spend almost nine dollars coping with the health care, criminal justice, family violence and other public costs of substance abuse and addiction.
The First Annual Hypocrisy Award goes to Representative Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) and Tom Latham (R-IA) and the 216 other House members who cosponsored the BEER bill to cut the tax on beer in half which will reduce the cost of beer and make this drink fit even more easily into the weekly allowances of teens. As matters now stand, the alcohol industry gets almost 20 percent of its profits from underage drinkers. By lowering the tax and hence the price–but not their profits–the beer merchants are sure to get even more underage drinker dollars.
What makes the sponsorship of this legislation the height of hypocrisy is that these are the same guys who will be voting to reform our health care system. Think about this: They are planning to cut back on Medicare for the elderly, impose a tax on middle class Americans who don’t get health insurance, lay a heavy burden on states to pay for more people under Medicaid, and find other taxes to cover the cost of sick care reform. Yet these representatives are willing to make more available and less costly a substance that is responsible for an enormous segment of our health care costs.
Risky and excessive drinking–the lions share of which begins with teenagers bingeing on beer–accounts for some 15 percent of the nation’s health care costs, some $365 billion; and roughly 15 percent of Medicare and Medicaid spending, some $51 billion. Availability is the mother of use and this legislation will make this substance even more available to underage and excessive drinkers. Wouldn’t any intelligent legislator be thinking of increasing the tax on beer and other alcohol in the year of health care reform, rather than making this drug of entry for millions of teens cheaper to buy?
If Congress wonders why it is held in such low esteem, its members might reflect on how it looks to have a majority of House members cheering for the BEER law to reduce taxes on beer, as it fills the halls and cable channels with rhetoric about health care reform.
Incidentally, if you’re mad as hell about this, check out the Join Together website where you can find out whether your Representative is sponsoring the BEER Act.