The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens

Lugar sweetens sugar program repeal plan with cartoon

Sen. Lugar sugar cartoon


In an odd political twist, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., under pressure from the tea party in his 2012 re-election campaign, has released a cartoon titled “Lugar’s Sweet Tea Party.”

The cartoon, drawn by Issac Daniel of Greenwood, Ind., accompanied Lugar’s announcement that he has once again introduced legislation to repeal the sugar program.

Lugar described the program, which allows growers to be paid for turning over their sugar to the government if the price falls below a certain level, as “the hidden, anti-competitive sugar tax.”

The release also noted that Lugar, who chaired the Agriculture committee before becoming the highest ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is the most senior Republican on the Agriculture committee.

“Cutting sugar subsidies was among the first votes I took in the Senate in 1977,” Lugar said. “We have made several efforts to further cut wasteful sugar programs and reform the entire farm bill. With more Members of Congress willing to take on reform efforts, it is time to finish the job.”

Although the cartoon features a ship named the “USS Subsidies,” the sugar program is based on forcing individual and industrial consumers to pay certain prices for sugar and operates at no cost to the government. This no-cost feature has helped the sugar program survive while other programs have undergone changes and cuts.

Bill O’Conner, a former House Agriculture Committee Republican policy director who is now advising the Sweetener Users Association, has said he believes tea party activists may support changes to the sugar program on the grounds that the program is government intrusion, even if it does not cause a government expense.

Lugar said in his news release that his Free Sugar Act of 2011 has been endorsed by a number of groups: Kendallville Kraft facility, Aunt Millie’s, Competitive Enterprise Institute, National Taxpayer’s Union, American Bakers Association, Emergency Committee for American Trade, Everglades Trust, Grocery Manufacturers Association, Independent Bakers Association, International Dairy Foods Association, National Association of Manufacturers, National Confectioners Association, National Foreign Trade Council, Retail Bakers of America, Snack Food Association, Sweetener Users Association, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

A group called the Coalition for Sugar Reform applauded Lugar’s effort in a news release.

“The legislation – which will promote jobs, fight consumer price inflation, and reduce both the budget deficit and the level of government interference in private markets – demonstrates growing bi-partisan congressional support for reforming a decades-old policy that has sent U.S. sugar prices to an all-time high,” the coalition said. The group noted that Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., have introduced another bill that would phase out certain features of the program, including marketing allotments and import restraints.

Lugar explained his position in a Washington Times article.

Jack Pettus, chairman of the American Sugar Alliance, which represents cane and beet growers, responded in a letter to the editor.

“With the government facing such steep budget problems, it’s surprising that Sen. Lugar would spend so much of his time and effort focused on destroying one of the country’s few no-cost policies,” Pettus wrote.

"U.S. sugar policy's popularity is at an all-time high on Capitol Hill because it supports 146,000 U.S. jobs, provides Americans with an affordable supply of homegrown sugar (so cheap restaurants give it away for free), and is projected by the USDA to remain no cost to taxpayers through at least 2021," he added.

Pettus also said that opponents of the program proposed a sugar subsidy plan in the last farm bill that would have cost the government $1.3 billion per year.