Time for new thinking on ag subsidy fight

What to do about agricultural subsidies has been a question which has bewitched limited government groups for decades.

The obvious response — get rid of them — sounds right to the ear, but in practice this approach has run up against a buzz saw from members representing many of the very red states that have formed the core of conservative support in Congress.

And therein lies the dilemma: Agricultural subsidies are not viewed as being handouts by conservative members of Congress who represent states dependent upon that industry. In many cases, they are viewed as necessary steps to protect domestic farmers against foreign government-subsidized predatory practices that threaten our nation's agriculture viability.

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Whether a warranted concern or not, these political roadblocks have made the simplistic approach to ending subsidies fruitless. In sugar policy alone, there have been eight votes in the past two years, all with the same failed outcome.

So what is a free-market conservative to do? While railing against these agricultural subsidies may make good direct mail copy, the frontal assault strategy has utterly and completely failed.

That failure, at least in the case of sugar, is at least partially due to the fact that the United States has been experiencing a subsidized sugar dump from Mexico, putting domestic producers at risk.

All of these factors weigh in to the reality that unless a third way that goes beyond the easy rhetoric is found, the politics of agriculture subsidies will always be on the side of keeping them intact.

So, when a member of Congress from a sugar-producing state comes up with a way to get rid of sugar subsidies as Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) has, those who truly approve eliminating subsidies should sit up and pay attention.

In a nutshell, the Yoho plan would drop U.S. sugar subsidies contingent upon other nations dropping theirs. Utilizing the World Trade Organization as the vehicle for driving this quantum shift in sugar policy, Yoho would effectively give U.S. negotiators the tool and moral authority to demand the end of other nation's help to their sugar industries.

If those nations agree and the subsidies are ended, free-market advocates will have found the way to finally end the political gridlock over agricultural subsidies. All it will take is for conservatives to get beyond the easy slogans and begin to think in a broader context to put the pieces on the world economic chessboard in place to win this free-market battle.

Yoho is leading the way — the only question is whether those who support ending agricultural subsidies will be wise enough to follow.

Manning (@rmanning957) is vice president of public policy and communications for Americans for Limited Government. Contact him at rmanning@getliberty.org.

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