Bill Clinton: Soda Tax Isn't the Way to Go

"No," said Grassley, when asked if there was any chance of taxing soda. "I think, quite frankly, the only reason it's being brought up is to get it shot down early so it doesn't become part of the debate. I don't think it's going to have any legs at all."

Overcoming opposition from the beverage industry is a tough task politically as states as diverse as Maine and New York have recently learned.

In November, voters in Maine repealed a tax on soda that had been approved by the state legislature. Earlier this year, New York Gov. David Paterson (D) was forced to abandon an 18-cent tax on soft drinks that he thought would improve health while helping to plug the state's budget hole.

"We don't think it's good tax policy, and we don't think it's good health policy," Susan Neely, the president of the American Beverage Association, told ABC News.

Only two states -- Arkansas and West Virginia -- currently tax soda, and the beverage industry likes to point out that those states are among the 10 states with the highest obesity levels in the nation, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"I think the president is right on," said Neely. "Obesity is a real problem. But the agreement we reached is more likely to change behavior than a tax."

Slowing Obesity?

In his written testimony advocating a tax on soft drinks, Jacobson, of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said that a tax of 1 cent per 12-ounce can would raise about $1.5 billion per year and that a tax of 1 cent per ounce would raise about $16 billion per year.

"The higher rates would reduce consumption and slow the obesity epidemic," said Jacobson. "Each penny tax per can would lower soft drink consumption by about 1 percent."

A soda tax has been pilloried by top Republicans in the House who view efforts to use the tax code to improve people's diets as government overreaching.

"Republicans believe that the American people -- not the federal government -- are smart enough to make decisions for themselves," said Antonia Ferrier, a spokeswoman to House Republican Leader John Boehner. "If we tax soda to pay for health care, what's next? Taxing high heels for causing shin splints? Let's get real. The administration should focus first on cutting wasteful spending, not taxing anything and everything."

Leaders of the American Beverage Association have been talking to members of the Senate Finance Committee to fight the soda tax proposal. In visits with lawmakers, the industry is pointing to efforts it is making in schools and also arguing that a higher tax would have a negative impact on the industry's ability to maintain jobs.

"Even a penny tax per 12 ounce can is going to have a dramatic impact on this industry from a financial standpoint," said Neely. "We've certainly been reaching out to members of Congress and we'll decide what to do depending on whether it gets any traction."

ABC News' Elizabeth Gorman and Ferdous Al-Faruque contributed to this report.

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