Bipartisan group of lawmakers aim to reform US sugar program

Bipartisan group of lawmakers aim to reform US sugar program
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A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Tuesday introduced legislation in the House and Senate that would overhaul the U.S. sugar program.

Reps. Virginia FoxxVirginia Ann FoxxGOP higher-ed bill would eliminate Obama rule on career-prep programs GOP bill would eliminate student loan forgiveness for public service Overnight Finance: Day three of tax bill markup | Ryan says election results raise pressure for tax reform | Tax whip list - Where Republicans stand | Justice, AT&T spar over CNN sale | 25 Dems vow to block spending without Dream Act MORE (R-N.C.) and Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.) and Sens. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenDems demand Tillerson end State hiring freeze, consult with Congress The Hill Interview: GOP chairman says ‘red flags’ surround Russian cyber firm Schumer celebrates New York Giants firing head coach: ‘About time’ MORE (D-N.H.) and Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyNewly declassified memos detail extent of improper Obama-era NSA spying Overnight Tech: FCC won't fine Colbert over Trump joke | Trump budget slashes science funding | Net neutrality comment period opens Appeals court decision keeps lawsuit against NSA surveillance alive MORE (R-Pa.) are proposing a measure that would limit domestic supply restrictions and reduce market distortions caused by sugar import quotas while ensuring that taxpayers don’t pay for sugar industry bailouts.

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Supporters of the overhaul argue that the existing sugar program hurts businesses that use sugar as an ingredient in their products while protecting a small group of well-connected sugar producers.

Those advocates say the Sugar Policy Modernization Act could save their businesses and consumers billions every year.

"Our nation’s antiquated sugar program seeks to prop up prices for the sugar industry at every turn, sticking consumers with the bill," Foxx said.

"The way our current system is set up, taxpayers and manufacturers bear all of the risks in the form of bailouts, uncertainty and shortages, while the sugar industry reaps guaranteed rewards,” she said.

Left unchanged, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the program will cost taxpayers more than $100 million, she said.

Since 2008, the federal sugar support program has cost consumers and businesses as much as $4 billion a year, supporters say.

"This job killing subsidy program is like a vampire, refusing to die while continuing to enrich a handful of well-connected plantation owners at the expense of hundreds of thousands of confectionary jobs in the United States," Davis said.

But sugar farmers argue the legislation would hurt their business.

“A better name would be the ‘Sugar Farmer Bankruptcy Bill’ because that’s exactly what it’s designed to do,” said Galen Lee, president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association.

“We’re hopeful that this bill will end up just like all the others designed to enrich candy companies at the expense of America’s family farmers,” Lee said.

"We provide this country with an affordable domestic supply of an essential ingredient, and we help generate 142,000 jobs at no cost to taxpayers. Most lawmakers don’t want to upend that success story," he said.

Travis Medine, a fifth-generation Louisiana sugarcane grower, is worried the bill would cripple growers and jeopardize the future of sugar farming.

“This is serious business, and our livelihoods hang in the balance of the debate,” Medine said.

“We literally have thousands of family farms and manufacturing jobs on the line,” he said.

The Coalition for Sugar Reform, a broad-based group of food manufacturers, environmental and government advocates, applauded the legislation.

"If we’re serious about creating long-term economic success, then we need to foster a better environment for small-business growth; we need to reform the sugar program now," said John Downs, co-chairman of the Coalition for Sugar Reform and president and CEO of the National Confectioners Association.

"There is great potential for expanded factories, more jobs and new U.S.-based facilities if the government permitted food and beverage companies to have access to fair prices on sugar,” Downs said.

An overhaul of sugar’s Depression-era federal support program was left out of the 2014 farm bill.

“It will help American businesses of all sizes, consumers, workers and families, without costing taxpayers,” said Rick Pasco, president of the Sweetener Users Association.

“It is very rare that Congress has the chance to consider legislation that will do so much for so many,” Pasco said.

Advocates for the overhaul say the bill will ensure U.S. companies get access to the sugar they need while encouraging firms to manufacture here and not move offshore.

"Reform of the federal sugar program is long overdue,” Shaheen said. “Our current policies create heavy costs for consumers and put American jobs at risk,” she said.

Supporters of reform say that since 2014, U.S. sugar prices have averaged 65 percent higher than world prices.

The current sugar program forces American consumers and businesses to pay up to $3 billion a year to subsidize very profitable U.S. sugar processors, according to the Sweetener Users Association.

"It is time to reform this government corporate welfare program that hikes food costs for families and threatens thousands of well-paying jobs in Pennsylvania,” Toomey said.

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