The President of the United States is in Europe discussing a global climate accord, which will hold economic and political ramifications for generations to come. Foreign allies are debating enhanced military involvement in the war on terror. Violence has gripped many U.S. cities. Racial tensions are flaring. A leading measure of U.S. manufacturing just fell to its lowest level since the recession, and overall business investment is slumping, dragging down the economy.
And at least two DC figures – Republican Congressman Joe Pitts and Grover Norquist – are screaming at the tops of their lungs this week that Congress must drop everything and focus on one key issue immediately: U.S. sugar policy.
Pitts’ preoccupation with sugar, although misguided, is understandable. He represents Hershey, Pennsylvania. And Big Candy lobbyists have vowed to ratchet up political donations and PR spending as part of their multi-million-dollar, 30-year crusade to outsource U.S. sugar production to heavily subsidized, market-manipulating countries like Brazil.
Speaking of Brazil, their economy and current political structure is collapsing as we speak, sending economic and socioeconomic ripples throughout South America. But that seems of little importance to Pitts and his cohort who instead want to hand over part of the country’s food supply to foreign traders in hopes that Big Candy might save a couple of pennies a pound in the short run.
As for Norquist’s involvement in the scheme, it is indeed a head scratcher. One can only imagine what might motivate the founder of Americans for Tax Reform to name sugar policy a top priority.
Sugar policy has nothing to do with tax reform. It doesn’t even have anything to do with taxpayers. The policy is based on loans that are repaid with interest, not on subsidy checks. It operated at no cost in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, and 2015. For that investment of $0, Americans have gotten a great deal on sugar, with grocery shoppers in other countries paying 20% more than we do here.
And it is projected to cost $0 over the life of the current Farm Bill. In fact, the only year in more than a decade that sugar cost anything was 2013, and those costs were a direct result of Mexico violating U.S. trade law. Not surprisingly, Pitts and Norquist didn’t oppose Mexico’s cheating.
The American Sugar Alliance certainly does not want to belittle the importance of sugar producers in this country or the policy that helps them navigate a global market awash in foreign subsidies. But even we recognize that America has much bigger priorities right now.
We realize that in all the polls taken where U.S. voters rank their biggest concerns, sugar doesn’t make the cut. We realize that topics like the economy, the military, education, and infrastructure improvement come first.
Reopening a just-passed Farm Bill to vote on sugar policy for the 9th time in three years is not a pressing priority for America. It is an issue, however, that matters to a handful of well-heeled multinational companies willing to open their checkbooks to decimate a highly efficient U.S. business.
And apparently two men who think precious congressional floor time at the end of the year should be spent on a small no-cost farm policy instead of the crises currently gripping the country.
Hopefully the last-minute Pitts-Norquist Hail Mary pass will fall harmlessly incomplete as cooler heads in Congress weigh in on real priorities. After all, few are expecting a completion. As a December 1 article in The Hill featuring the head of the National Confectioners Association noted: “the [sugar policy] debate isn’t likely to come up until around the time of the next farm bill, about four years from now.”