Should Unhealthy Foods Be Taxed in Order to Fund Health Care Reform?

This is a rush transcript from "Your World With Neil Cavuto," September 8, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

STUART VARNEY, GUEST HOST: First, he was inspiring them to study. Now he may be trying to tax them to lose weight — President Obama telling "Men's Health" magazine we should be exploring the idea of taxing soda and that our kids drink way too much of the stuff.

Well, it's an idea some government-run health care supporters have been proposing to pay for their plan — all bad ideas, says Republican Congressman Jeb Hensarling.

Jeb, let me play devil's advocate for a second, if I may. What is wrong with discouraging people from eating sugar and soda in the age of obesity? What's wrong with that?

REP. JEB HENSARLING (R), TEXAS: Well, first, that is my responsibility as a father of a 7-year-old and a 5-year old, number one.

Number two, it just seems like the knee-jerk reaction of the Obama administration is, if in doubt, tax it. We got an energy problem, let's tax energy. We have got a problem in the economy, let's tax business. We got a problem in health care, let's start taxing soda.

You know, I have heard of sin taxes, but it is a sad day in America when drinking a cola is somewhat equated with sin. Let me do the parenting in my family.


VARNEY: Well, Congressman, here's what they would say to me. Look, if you can't make them pay more for the stuff that makes them bigger, fatter, and you can't charge them more for health care because they are fatter, we end up paying for them, and that is not right.

HENSARLING: Well, then let's create a new health care system, one that empowers individuals in a competitive marketplace to buy the health care that is right for them and their families. And let's incent people with wellness.

But let's not have Uncle Sam decide that, today, we are going to tax colas. Tomorrow, it is ice cream. Maybe next Thursday, it is cheeseburgers.

You know, ultimately, this is a free society. People ought to be able to choose the foods and drink that they want. But we need to go towards not having a government control of our health care system, but we need to get down the road of letting individuals buy the health care that is best for them and their families. It's, which road do you want to take?

VARNEY: Look, I don't want to play devil's advocate for too long here, believe me, but isn't it OK for the government to push people in a certain direction, to use tax policy on occasion as a way of reengineering a few things, especially when you have got a crisis of obesity? And we have.

HENSARLING: Well, of course we do. There is no doubt about that. But, again, I go back to the original proposition. Do you really trust the people who are now running AIG and GM and Chrysler and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, who put trillions of dollars of debt on our children and grandchildren?

I mean, maybe this is the Obama administration's way of dealing with a trillion dollars of debt. They're going to add a nickel to the price of a cola. I don't know.

Again, I think there is a better way. And, ultimately, in health care — and we need health care reform. There is no doubt about it. But it is more important to do it right than to do it quick. You are either going to go down the public option road, where you end up with public and no option, government-run, rationing, killing jobs, or you are going to go down the path where patients and doctors are empowered in a competitive health care system, and that will incent people to be well. They will pay less.


VARNEY: Real fast, Congressman. What do you think the president will do in his speech tomorrow night, go hard left, go all the way for the public option, or compromise? Real fast, which do you think?

HENSARLING: Well, Stuart, I have high hopes, low expectations.

I hope he has heard the message of the American people, no government control of their health care. I fear he is going to preach the same message with a larger megaphone.

VARNEY: Got it.

Congressman Jeb Hensarling, thanks for joining us, sir. We appreciate you being with us.

HENSARLING: Thank you, Stuart.

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