Some liberals want to stop food stamp recipients from buying soft drinks, and some conservatives are outraged. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York Governor David Patterson have petitioned the Department of Agriculture for permission to ban purchases of sugary drinks – which are allowed in the other 49 states – for a two year period. Today on “Fox and Friends” Steve Doocy asked, “Should it be any of the government’s business what you’re drinking?” (Brian Kilmeade quickly interjected, “You’re paying for it.”) Even the Lew Rockwell Blog, not usually known as an advocate for food stamp recipients, called Bloomberg a Nazi. Lost in the clamor over “food Nazis” is the real outrage: Once the government operates any enterprise, it can restrict or deny its use, whether the service is food stamps or federal health care – and the restrictions are usually anything but beneficial to public health.
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Bloomberg and Patterson are making the case based on the Big Apple’s “obesity epidemic” and, less honestly, on fiscal conservative grounds. The AP reports, “In fiscal year 2009, New Yorkers received $2.7 billion in food stamp benefits and spent $75 million to $135 million of that on sugary drinks” – or less than four percent of the food stamp budget.
If they were concerned about budgets, perhaps they would spend more worrying that more than 20 percent of New Yorkers are receiving food stamps. Bloomberg News reports a record 41.8 million Americans now participate in the program, up 18 percent over the last year. In fact. “Participation has set records for 20 straight months.” The rate is set to increase to 43.3 million – or one-eighth of all Americans – according to federal estimates.
But liberals’ real concern is not cost or nutrition; it is control and regulation. The USDA recently tested a new program choosing “7,500 randomly selected households in Massachusetts, [in which] participants get 30 cents added to their benefit balances for every dollar they spend on fruits and vegetables – which reduces the cost of fresh produce by almost one-third.” (Emphasis added.)
Of course, that program is the exception. Most programs require cut backs and denial or services, as overrun government programs struggle to survive dwindling tax revenues. They are the inevitable aftermath of open-ended entitlement programs that have expanded for 50 years and threaten to consume the U.S. economy – and they are perfectly permissible. New Deal Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson ruled in 1943, “It is hardly lack of due process for the government to regulate that which it subsidizes” (see Wickard v. Filburn). In principal, the government can approve or deny any use of its funds it wishes, on soft drinks, junk food – or chemotherapy.
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A recent news item illustrates the deadly impact of federal control. The State of Arizona announced its Medicaid program will no longer cover many adult organ transplants, including liver transplants for patients with Hepatitis C, because of “significant fiscal challenges facing the State and substantial growth in the Medicaid population.” National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable called the move “a death sentence.” CNSNews.com reproduces part of a state-issued list of procedures no longer covered by the state plan, including “insulin pumps; percussive vests; bone-anchored hearing aids; cochlear implants; orthotics; gastric bypass surgery; certain durable medical equipment; “well” medical checkups; some non-emergency medical transportation; microprocessor-controlled lower limbs and joints,” and more.
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