Obamacare Counts Calories

San Franciso — H.R. 3692, the monstrous healthcare reform bill that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D – Calif.) unleashed on October 30, comprises 1,990 pages of dense, nearly impenetrable prose. This legislation is precisely 10 sheets shy of four reams of paper. Just 10 pages after completing its third full ream, this bill reveals on page 1,510 yet another reason to reject ObamaCare: an unfunded federal mandate for nutrition labeling at chain restaurants and even on vending machines.

In language that would stir only a House committee chairman’s heart, this bill’s Section 2572 begins: “TECHNICAL AMENDMENTS. — Section 403(q)(5)(A) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. 343(q)(5)(A)) is amended — (1) in subclause (i), by inserting ‘Except as provided in clause (H)(ii)(III),’ after ‘(i)’ ; and (2) in subclause (ii), by inserting ‘except as provided in clause (H)(ii)(III),’ after ‘(ii)’”.

Any American still conscious after that passage would discover that H.R. 3692 requires food chains with 20 or more outlets to display “in a clear and conspicuous manner…a nutrient content disclosure statement.” It must include caloric information on each standard food item, beside its spot on the menu. Diners also are entitled to “a succinct statement concerning suggested daily caloric intake, as specified by the [Health] Secretary by regulation and posted prominently…”

This information must appear on “a drive-through menu board” and even “in the case of food sold at a salad bar, buffet line, cafeteria line, or similar self-service facility…”

This federal legislation covers “standard menu items that come in different flavors, varieties, or combinations, but which are listed as a single menu item, such as soft drinks, ice cream, pizza, doughnuts, or children’s combination meals through means determined by the Secretary, including ranges, averages, or other methods.”

These rules also would cover operators of 20 or more vending machines. Their nutritional data must appear “in close proximity to each article of food or the selection button…”

This molecular micromanagement is costly and irksome. Stupider still, it likely will fail.

To great fanfare last year, Michael Bloomberg — New York City’s just re-elected mayor — inflicted similar food labels on local restaurant chains. So far, Bloomberg’s initiative quietly has backfired.

Writing in October 6’s Health Affairs, New York University and Yale researchers describe their interviews with patrons at Burger King, KFC, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s locations in Gotham — both before and after Bloomberg’s labeling law, and in Newark, New Jersey, which lacks such strictures.

Only 27.7 percent of New Yorkers who saw nutrition information said it affected their eating decisions. Average New York patrons ingested 825 calories per meal before the law and 846 afterward. Newark’s typical consumption rose from 823 to 826 calories.

Dietary labels evidently leave fast-food lovers cold. As columnist Steve Chapman recently observed: “Giving them nutritional information is a bit like recruiting for Greenpeace at a rifle range — a doomed enterprise.”

Alas, these proposed regulations are not this bill’s ugliest feature. Compared to its other failures, fretting about food labels is like complaining that the shrimp forks should have been sharper on the Titanic. More like an iceberg is H.R. 3692’s brand-new, 5.4 percent surcharge on those with Adjusted Gross Incomes above $1 million. Americans for Tax Reform notes that this population includes some 626,000 small-to-medium-sized employers who would face $130 billion in new taxes over the next 10 years. Absent $13 billion vacuumed from their pockets annually, these productive citizens nonetheless are expected to create or save jobs. So it goes in the fantasy world that is the Democrat Party.

These proposed food notices, this new small-employer tax, and H.R. 3692’s other statist ingredients demonstrate that Obamacare in general and this bill in particular are virtual Thanksgiving feasts for liberal, big-government activists. This measure overflows with fresh regulations; 111 brand-new boards, agencies, and programs; and $572 billion in new taxes to finance all of the above. And more.

Nancy Pelosi’s contribution to Obamacare is an all-you-can-eat banquet for federal busybodies.