Rick Santorum's Beer Money
Rick Santorum might not be the political candidate you'd most associate with a keg party. But during his 12 years in the Senate, few members did more to promote the suds industry's interests in Washington than Santorum.
Big Beer is big business in Pennsylvania, home to major breweries like Rolling Rock, Yuengling, and Keystone. And the beer industry has worked hard to make its voice heard in Washington, channeling millions into lobbying and campaign contributions. From 1995 through 2006, Rick Santorum was one of the upper chamber's biggest beneficiaries of beer industry cash. Wholesalers, brewers, and their top executives filled Santorum's coffers with at least $80,000 in campaign donations. And they got their money's worth: Four times during his two Senate terms Santorum pushed to cut the beer excise tax by half, over the protests of economists and public health experts who say that a lower tax would lead to a loss of revenue and lives.
The beer excise tax isn't the hottest topic on the campaign trail, but it's serious business in Washington, where the alcohol industry spent $79 million on lobbyists between 2001 and 2006 alone. The industry-backed Beer Institute, to take one example, spent $3.9 million on lobbyists over that period, and chief among its goals was reversing a seemingly innocuous piece of the vast federal tax code. Set at the flat rate of $9 per barrel in 1951, the federal excise tax on beer (paid by the brewer) went unchanged for 40 years, until it was raised to $18 per barrel in 1991.
The beer lobby opposed the new standard long before Santorum came on board, and sought willing allies in Washington. In 1997, the New York Times noted that "the politically powerful beer industry has been hoping to persuade Congress to reduce the excise tax on beer." To help win support for repealing the excise tax increase, Anheuser-Busch bankrolled a "Roll Back the Beer Tax" web campaign that launched in 2002, touting the Main Street cred of "Joe & Jane Six Pack: The Average American Beer Drinkers" and leaning on the work of the Beer Institute.
But since the tax is not indexed to inflation, the real tax rate has been steadily eroding since the Eisenhower era; the current rate actually marks a 75 percent decline from its original value, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
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