Congress moves to repeal slush fund used for anti-obesity campaigns

Amanda Carey Contributor
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As Congress continues to battle over budget cuts, one House subcommittee took the first step toward defunding a slush fund of taxpayer money used for anti-obesity campaigns throughout the country. In a little-noticed hearing last Thursday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Health Subcommittee voted out legislation that would repeal the Prevention and Public Health Fund that was created in the health care reform bill.

The fund is a permanently authorized and appropriated subsidy for the Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) initiative (originally funded through the Recovery Act) that gives grants that directly financed anti-obesity campaigns and soda-tax efforts in New York City and elsewhere.

But even more staggering is the rate at which the already-appropriated funds increase from year to year, per the language of the health care bill. The legislation authorizes $500 million for fiscal year (FY) 2010, then $1 billion by FY 2012, $1.5 billion in 2013, and finally, $2 billion from 2015 and “each fiscal year thereafter”.

That eventual $2 billion in taxpayer money would be controlled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a federal agency under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

“In the current fiscal environment, we need to ask ourselves several key questions,” said Rep. Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania, in a statement.  “First, should the federal government be involved in health promotion and prevention activities? One could argue yes, but the more important (or relevant) question is whether the amount of money going to the Prevention and Public Health Fund is proper and responsible…”

The answer to that question is looking increasingly clear, as the CDC was also coming dangerously close to violating federal law by using taxpayer money to lobby for policy changes through the CPPW. That was never clearer than last December, when CPPW Director Rebecca Bunnell gave a slideshow presentation during a “webinar.”

One slide indicated the desire to establish policies that would limit the availability of sugary drinks. And in what would seem to be an endorsement for a soda tax, the slide included the suggestion of “changing relative prices” as a way to restrict intake of sugary drinks.

On another slide, a California town that banned the construction of new fast food restaurants is hailed as an “early success” of the program. Another slide celebrated the fact that in 2010, South Caroline raised its cigarette tax for the first time in 33 years.

But those “successes” could be stopped in their tracks if the full House votes to repeal the fund. The Energy and Commerce Committee is expected to take up the legislation on Tuesday.

“With our massive budget deficit and exploding national debt, it’s great news that a House committee is looking to defund the Prevention and Public Health fund which is nothing more than a slush fund for the CDC media campaigns,” Tom Borelli of the Free Enterprise Project told TheDC. “Giving billions of dollars to unelected bureaucrats to spend as they see fit is a waste of tax dollars.”

As The Daily Caller previously reported, the CPPW initiative so far has doled out grants to 31 states and cities. New York City got one of the largest grants, at $31.1 million that was used for anti-obesity and anti-smoking campaigns. Subsequently, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene launched an ad campaign alerting residents to just how unhealthy sodas can be.

Other cities receiving CPPW money include Boston, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Chicago.