By Colby Itkowitz
Call Washington Bureau
10:13 AM EDT, May 23, 2013
Disputes over the government's sugar program break down regionally rather than politically. It pits lawmakers from states like Pennsylvania where candy making is big business against those from states where sugar is grown.
Helping to lead the candy charge is Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey who cosponsored an amendment to a larger farm bill that would scale back the price-support sugar program. Democrat Sen. Bob Casey also supported the effort.
It put Toomey on the same side as liberal Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Dick Durbin of Illinois. And on the other side, likely 2016 presidential hopeful Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., voting with Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Candy companies, like Bethlehem's Just Born, have argued that the program artificially raises the cost of sugar, and proponents of the amendment warn that candy companies will start moving their business overseas where sugar is cheaper.
The Toomey-backed amendment failed Wednesday evening 45-54 - by similar margins as when it was voted on last year - and so the sugar program remains.
The program was originally put in place to guarantee the price of domestic sugar by limiting how much can be imported. It also provides secured loans to sugar growers. In 2008, changes were made to the program to account for unrestricted sugar imports from Mexico under the North American Free Trade Agreement. One of the major changes it ensured that domestic sugar producers supply at least 85 percent of the sugar for U.S. companies.
On the Senate floor before the vote, Toomey argued that sugar growers' profits should not be put above the American consumer. "Everybody uses some amount of sugar. It's in virtually all processed food ... it's a staple, a fundamental staple and, in fact, the poorestAmericans spend the highest percentage of their limited income on sugar," Toomey said.
North Dakota Democrat Heidi Heitkamp used the importance of sugar to Americans to make the opposite argument.
"Sugar is too important to our economy, it's too important to our food processing to risk simply that we are going to have enough sugar on the international market, that we are not going to have a domestic supply, because many ofthese provisions would drive the domestic producer out of the market, making us beholden to foreign sources of sugar," she said.
For more background on the sugar debate, read this Morning Call piece written a year ago when the issue was last debated in the Senate.
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