By Ramsey Cox
“Currently sugar is the only commodity program that was not reformed in the committee passed farm bill that is under consideration now,” Shaheen said ahead of the vote. “It’s puzzling to me that they totally left sugar subsidies out of the bill reforms.
The Senate is considering a $955 billion five-year farm bill and amendment work is expected to continue through the week.
S. 954 would cut more than $23 billion from current spending levels over 10 years, including $4 billion-worth of cuts to food stamps, which has led to some Democratic opposition.
Shaheen, Toomey and Kirk argued that reforms to the sugar program would benefit consumers and the food industry by reducing the price of sugar because the current program “props up the price at an artificially high level.” Their amendment would return to the sugar policies that were in place prior to the 2008 farm bill.
"It's time to end the government's wasteful sugar program,” Toomey said when introducing the amendment. “This flawed policy is corporate welfare at its worst and hurts not only candy companies and food manufacturers, but also the families who end up paying higher costs for food made with sugar.”
He said candy manufacturers have been leaving the United States because sugar is cheaper in other countries that don’t have this sugar program.
But senators from states that have sugar farmers, such as North Dakota and Minnesota where sugar beets are grown, argued that any tweaks to the sugar program would disturb the balance of the farm bill.
“The sugar program is critical to the compromise of the farm bill,” Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) said. “My concern is if you single out one commodity you threaten the effectiveness of the overall farm bill.”
Last year’s Senate farm bill passed on a 64-35 vote, but the House failed to take up its own farm bill. A similar amendment reforming the sugar program failed with only 46 votes last year.
This year the House has a $940 billion farm bill that cuts spending by $39.7 billion over 10 years — $20.5 billion are cuts to food stamps. The House bill likely won’t get a floor vote until June.
The White House has said it supports the Senate farm bill, which shifts farm subsidies away from direct payments to farmers and toward expanded crop insurance.