Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Obama, the FDA and alcohol regulation

Last year the Obama administration contemplated putting the FDA in charge of alcohol regulation, but when it made its budget proposal, that idea wasn't included.

I got to thinking about that this week in the wake of the excellent New York Times story about conflicts between the Obama administration and the FDA.

Does the Obama administration have some ulterior motive regarding alcohol regulation? My trust level of the President isn't very high, as he seems unwilling to give up searching for votes from the social conservatives who hate him.

Regarding the FDA story, apparently Obama is letting fear of Glenn Beck overrule science when it comes to food regulation. The story cites White House fears that requiring calorie counts for movie theater popcorn -- which the FDA wants -- would be mocked on Fox.

I've been meaning to take my camera to AMC 1000 Van Ness, which now shows calorie counts, just to demonstrate how enlightening they are. One package deal -- nachos and a humongous Coke -- has over 2000 calories, or all you should eat in a day. A large popcorn by itself is over 800 calories; cookies and candy have less. Why does Obama think people won't vote for him if they learn facts like these? The anti-science vote has been Republican for years now, which is why the Republican party uses global warming denial as a litmus test.

Overruling the FDA for political reasons is yet another example of Obama disappointing people who had hoped for a more scientific, liberal approach to government. Hammer-wielding federal thugs trashing Oaksterdam University this week as part of a "search" is another. (Was it necessary to bash holes in doors that could be opened?) Obama clearly wants to look "tough on marijuana" in November.

Is it possible that in Obama's political calculations, there will come a time when he wants to appear "tough on alcohol"?

As the Obama political team apparently has the FDA bent to its demands, is the TTB perhaps proving less compliant? Was last year's threat to eliminate it a warning shot?

What would a social-conservative agenda at the TTB be, anyway? The TTB doesn't control access to alcohol; that's done at the state level. An anti-alcohol TTB could slow down label approval just to add to the difficulty of doing business ... wait a second, that's already happened! Conspiracy theory! Except I don't really believe it, all reports are that the TTB is simply understaffed.

It's worth keeping an ear to the wind when Obama hits the campaign trail to see if he panders to social conservatives by talking about the dangers of drinking.

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Hamilton said...

I think you've got this all wrong. While there may be some evangelical prohibitionists on the fringe of the Republican party the main stream has absolutely no intentions of limiting access to alcohol just as they do not have any intentions to police food. Even teetotalers such as GW Bush and Romney have no interest in neo-prohibitionism. It is the left that is the home for the kill-joy activists who don't want anyone to eat popcorn, fast food or anything else they deem unsuitable. The right says "It's your life you are free to make your own decisions but don't complain about the effects that your choices create." Remember, prohibition was a result of liberal Democrat Woodrow Wilson, one of Obama's heroes.

Moving alcohol regulation to FDA from TTB is a much more insidious plan. TTB is part of the treasury and as such is concerned with revenue and licensing. Essentially, they don't make judgements they just collect money. The FDA is a much more interventionist agency. The FDA can prohibit food and drugs from the market in the name of public safety. By putting alcohol under this agency puts it closer to government control. Combined with the planned government takeover of Obamacare you could suddenly find Michelle Obama making morality judgements on your alcohol intake and denying you healthcare because your definition of moderate alcohol consumption differs from hers.

W. Blake Gray said...

Hamilton: You're absolutely right about the Republican party up until the late '80s. And maybe Mitt Romney's nomination will bring the party back from being controlled by its fringe; I'm certainly hopeful.

I think you're giving Michelle Obama a little more power than the reality, not to mention misinterpreting the health care reform. I WISH there was a single-payer system, but there isn't.

But your point about the FDA having the power to ban alcohol in the name of public safety -- that would seem to be true. That said, that isn't the way the FDA is operating these days, as the NYTimes article points out.

ML_EngAmer said...

Using this topic to segue to speculation on campaign approaches makes a weak point more suited for side show stop-and-watchers. However, as noted in the NY Times article, it is likely that the current political atmosphere will allow Obama’s administration to support the FDA in making major changes for the moment.

If the Obama administration were to push all of the good regulations that the FDA wants to put in place, there would be a viral growth in opposition. If that were to occur come November, then next administration could repeal these regulations more quickly than they were instituted.

W. Blake Gray said...

ML: Well that is certainly Obama's political calculation. And part of the Republican speech book is to say the government "restricts our freedoms."

I just can't agree on these FDA overrulings, though. Nobody wants to tell movie theaters they can't sell popcorn, only that they should tell us how many calories are in it.