The Magazine

The New Prohibitionists

The taxpayer-funded Obamacare temperance league.

Jul 8, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 41 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
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But in March 2012, the task force produced its third recommendation. In a year, the tenor of its conclusions had changed dramatically—the task force was suddenly pushing the bogus 44 percent figure. And even though the CDC had previously admitted most of the findings were “statistically non-significant,” the alcohol-related hospitalization data from Sweden were being prominently touted. (Both of these questionable data points were mentioned in the Philadelphia Inquirer article.) The task force has also put together a website, “The Guide to Community Preventative Services,” compiling its recommendations for “preventing excessive alcohol consumption,” almost all of which are legislative. These include raising alcohol taxes, maintaining blue laws limiting the days and hours of sale, stricter zoning laws to prohibit alcohol sales, tougher anti-alcohol activity among law enforcement officers, and, yes, combating liquor privatization proposals.

What changed between 2006 and 2012 such that the CDC would suddenly be abusing its scientific credibility to aggressively influence the political process? The most obvious development is that in that time span a number of states—including Washington, Georgia, Connecticut, and Virginia, in addition to Pennsylvania—suddenly began considering proposals to privatize their liquor monopolies or otherwise loosen liquor laws. The second notable development is that the stimulus and Obamacare bills were passed. The stimulus bill contained a $373 million Prevention and Wellness Fund to dole out grants to community organizations to “create healthier communities across the nation through innovative and proven approaches.” But that’s chump change compared with the billions allocated to Obamacare’s Prevention and Public Health fund. Initially, the fund was given $12.5 billion, but starting in 2022 the fund will be given $2 billion a year. “It’s totally crazy to give the executive branch $2 billion a year ad infinitum to spend as they wish,” American Enterprise Institute health policy expert Jim Capretta, also of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, recently told Forbes.

These funds are being used to dole out grants to organizations that are pushing the CDC’s questionable political agenda. For instance, the CDC’s Community Transformation Grant program fact sheet states the program is “funded by the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund.” According to the CDC’s website, grants are available to “spread community-wide change” by “support[ing] state, local and Tribal Nation implementation and enforcement of alcohol control policies.” According to the CDC, “examples may include .  .  . reducing the density of retail alcohol outlets.” In plain English, the CDC’s model grant recipient is someone who wants to lobby for stricter local zoning laws for alcohol sales, never mind that federal grant monies are not supposed to be used for lobbying. 

The abuse of these grant programs isn’t just confined to alcohol, either. The CDC has a broad agenda involving obesity, tobacco, nutrition, and other politically correct health issues that the agency is trying to implement with tax dollars. The nonpartisan government accountability watchdog Cause of Action recently completed a 19-month investigation into the CDC’s use of the stimulus’s Prevention and Wellness Fund, and it concluded that there were numerous apparent violations of the law and that the program “became a front for lobbying, government propaganda, and cronyism.” 

The Health and Human Services inspector general last year issued a warning that these grant payments might be running afoul of federal antilobbying law. Last year, members of Congress wrote a pointed letter to HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who oversees the CDC, asking whether these grant programs were illegally using tax dollars to lobby for state and local restrictions. In April, House majority leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) led an unsuccessful charge to kill Obamacare’s slush fund.  

Meanwhile, the Community Preventive Services Task Force has been putting together “webinars” and otherwise distributing its community guides pushing its prohibitionist political agenda and urging community groups to launch media campaigns in support of tougher liquor laws. In part, they get away with this because they claim to be “independent” of the CDC. One of the PowerPoint presentations distributed by the task force contains the disclaimer that “the findings and conclusions in this presentation have not been formally disseminated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and should not be construed to represent any agency determination or policy.” And yet, the Department of Health and Human Services and CDC logos appear prominently on the page below this disclaimer and on every other page of the presentation. 

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