NY lawmakers want to keep Big Gulp

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to ban large sugary drinks in New York City drew a not-so-sweet response from both liberal and conservative members of the New York congressional delegation.

“I think it’s a bit too far,” said Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), a Brooklyn liberal who served in the New York City Council for the first five years of Bloomberg’s term.

{mosads}In his latest public health initiative to combat obesity, Bloomberg wants to prohibit the sale of sweetened beverages larger than 16 fluid ounces within the five boroughs.

“I understand where he’s going with it,” Clarke said. “We do have an obesity problem, but where do we draw the line? Are we going to regulate how many cookies people can buy at the cookie shop, how many cakes people can buy at the cake shop, how many ice creams people can get from the ice cream shop? I just don’t know where you draw the line.”

Rep. Bob Turner (R-N.Y.), the city delegation’s newest member and one of its two Republicans, laughed for a full 15 seconds when he was asked about Bloomberg’s plan Thursday near the House floor.

“The mayor does so much and works so hard it’s amazing that he can find time for this,” Turner told The Hill. “I think there’s a point that some parental and individual responsibility should take hold, and I don’t want to regulate people’s lives to this extent – however good the purposes are, and the intent.”

Bloomberg, a political independent who left both the Democratic and Republican parties, defended his plan in an appearance on MSNBC.

“There’s an epidemic in this country of people being overweight, bordering on obesity,” the mayor said. “We’ve got to do something. Everybody is wringing their hands saying we’ve got to do something.”

Bloomberg said people who wanted more than 16 ounces of a sugary drink – like the popular 32-ounce “Big Gulp” size at 7-Eleven – could still have them, but would have to buy two drinks. And stores will be able to sell bottled drinks larger than 16 fluid ounces, he said.

“We’re not taking away anybody’s right to do things,” he said. “We’re simply forcing you to understand that you have to make the conscious decision to go from one cup to another cup.”

Bloomberg has made public health initiatives a hallmark of his three terms at City Hall. He successfully banned smoking in restaurants and bars early in his term before targeting trans fat and salt in city eateries.

Conservatives have said he is a poster child for “nanny state” governing – a term that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) used in criticizing Bloomberg’s plan Thursday on CNBC.

“You can’t make this stuff up, can you?” Ryan said with a laugh.

“I gave up pop for Lent three years ago and I haven’t had any since, but do what you want,” Ryan said. “Do what you want with your life.”

Another conservative and a member of the Congressional Doctors Caucus, Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.), likened the sugary drink ban to socialism. “He’s totally wrong,” Broun said of the mayor. “This is a socialistic idea that government should manage every aspect of our lives, and this is one that should not stand.

“It’s not government’s responsibility to combat obesity,” Broun added. “It’s parents, with their children and adults in their own lives to decide what they want to eat and what they want to drink.”

Even a close Bloomberg ally, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), winced at his latest proposal. “I like sugary drinks. Mayor Bloomberg is right medically, but I think you can only go so far in telling people what to eat and drink,” King told The Hill. He said the mayor’s plan went “slightly too far.”

“He’s a great mayor. This is his thing,” King said. “I wouldn’t have done it this way, but he’s the mayor and I’m not.”

A co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), said the proposed ban was “a good move” but warned that it must be phased in over time to avoid shocking the public.

“What kind of public education you do around it is also very, very important, because the reaction, at least where I’m from, would be negative right away,” Grijalva said. “So I think it’s a good policy. It’s how you phase and implement it over the course of time.”

To that end, Bloomberg planned a public relations blitz to explain his proposal. After newspaper interviews on Wednesday and the MSNBC appearance Thursday afternoon, he taped interviews with all three major network evening newscasts Thursday evening.

Daniel Strauss and Alicia M. Cohn contributed.

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