On a biggest day of the year for candy hearts and chocolate kisses, a bipartisan group of lawmakers argued that conditions are right to finally rein in federal sugar subsidies.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Oregon Democrat, said at a Valentine’s Day Capitol Hill briefing Thursday that the current Congress is more likely to pass sugar reform, after efforts to overhaul the current system were defeated during the last five-year farm bill reauthorization fight in 2008. A bill to end sugar subsidies fell four votes short in the Senate last year, but opposition from sugar-growing states is considered stronger in the House.
“We don’t get this opportunity every year,” said Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire Democrat and one of the main writers of the bill, said this time subsidy opponents say they have stopped short of seeking to do away entirely with subsidies for the sake of a stronger coalition.
“Our bill does not remove the safety net from sugar producers,” said Mrs. Shaheen.
Sugar industry advocates say that critics underestimate the number of U.S. jobs preserved by the price supports while overstating the losses in domestic sugar-using industries. They also argue that many U.S. sugar producers will go out of business if the current support system is junked.
“If sugar policy is gutted, you’ll have producers who simply won’t survive,” American Sugar Alliance spokesman Phillip Hayes told Bloomberg News.
But Mrs. Shaheen noted that the sugar industry was the only industry covered by the farm bill that did not receive any kind of modifications in 2008.
Several members at Thursday’s news conference cited Commerce Department estimates that, for every job saved by current sugar price supports, three manufacturing and food industry jobs are lost or at risk.
Rep. Joseph R. Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican, said the goal of the new bill was to bring a greater balance between producers and users. Currently, he said, U.S. consumers pay 30 percent more for sugar and products made with sugar than consumers outside of the United States.
Mrs. Shaheen said the price of American sugar has been rising since 2008, even though domestic sugar prices have dropped in recent months. Supporters see that trajectory as one more reason to move ahead on sugar reform. Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican, said it would be “completely inappropriate” for taxpayers to foot the bill on buying up surplus sugar.
“When you fight to protect something that is not worth fighting for, you lose other opportunities,” Mr. Goodlatte said.
“This is not a partisan issue,” added Mr. Pitts. “This is about fairness.”