Big Sugar Wins in the Senate

Today we have yet another example of Republicans and Democrats teaming up to protect a special interest at the public’s expense. A few hours ago the Senate voted 50-46 to kill an amendment from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) that would have phased out subsidies and supports for the sugar industry.

A Cato essay on agricultural regulations and trade barriers explains what 50 senators just voted to defend:

The big losers from federal sugar programs are U.S. consumers. The Government Accountability Office estimates that U.S. sugar policies cost American consumers about $1.9 billion annually. At the same time, sugar policies have allowed a small group of sugar growers to become wealthy because supply restrictions have given them monopoly power. The GAO found that 42 percent of all sugar subsidies go to just 1 percent of sugar growers. To protect their monopolies, many sugar growers, such as the Fanjul family of Florida, have become influential campaign supporters of many key members of Congress.

U.S. food industries that buy sugar are harmed by current sugar policies as well. The employment in U.S. sugar growing is 61,000, which compares to employment in U.S. businesses that use sugar of 988,000. Thus, one small industry benefits from current sugar regulations, while industries that are more than 10 times larger are damaged…

Another problem is the environmental damage caused by U.S. sugar policies. Large areas of the Florida Everglades have been converted to cane sugar production because of artificially high sugar prices. These wetlands have been greatly damaged by land drainage, habitat destruction, and the phosphorous in fertilizers used by sugar farmers.

Of the 48 Democratic senators who voted, 32 voted to kill the amendment. And here I thought Democrats were supposed to be concerned about the environment and creating jobs. The Republican side did better with “only” 16 out of 46 voting to kill the amendment. Of note, Marco Rubio (R-FL), a tea party favorite and potential running mate for Mitt Romney, was one of the 16. An obvious sop to the powerful Florida sugar lobby, Rubio’s vote in favor of maintaining the federal government’s Soviet-style sugar racket is an all-too-common example of a politician choosing parochialism over principle.