Crit­ics: Sugar pro­gram a sour deal

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - BUSINESS - By Andrew Tay­lor

WASH­ING­TON » Food pro­ces­sors, soft drink man­u­fac­tur­ers and candy mak­ers are squar­ing off against the U.S. sugar in­dus­try in a fa­mil­iar bat­tle over a pro­gram that props up sugar prices.

The sugar pro­gram, a web of price sup­ports, loans and tar­iffs that crit­ics say gouges con­sumers, is one of the key bat­tles in this year’s farm bill, a five-year re­newal of fed­eral farm and nu­tri­tion pol­icy that al­ways proves to be a headache for Repub­li­cans con­trol­ling Congress.

This year is no ex­cep­tion as con­ser­va­tives hop­ing to force progress on un­re­lated im­mi­gra­tion issues are lin­ing up to block pas­sage of the farm mea­sure. The move by the hard-right House Free­dom cau­cus ap­pears to have put pas­sage of the mea­sure Fri­day in great jeop­ardy.

GOP lead­ers are pro­mot­ing this year’s re­newal of the mea­sure as tight­en­ing work and job train­ing re­quire­ments for food stamps. But the food stamp pro­posal has driven Democrats away from the bill, sched­uled for a vote Fri­day. That means Repub­li­cans have to pass the mea­sure with min­i­mal GOP de­fec­tions, and it puts pres­sure on Repub­li­cans who have crit­i­cized costly farm sub­si­dies in the past to vote for them this time.

Free­dom Cau­cus Chair­man Mark Mead­ows, R-NC., says that “the time is now” to deal with im­mi­gra­tion and that the farm bill doesn’t face a press­ing dead­line. He said farm­ers “want us to deal with im­mi­gra­tion and the farm bill both.”

The sugar pro­gram is part of

an amal­gam of com­mod­ity sup­port pro­grams that have sweep­ing back­ing in Re­pub­li­can-lean­ing farm coun­try. But most Repub­li­cans op­pose the sugar pro­gram, say­ing it runs counter to the party’s free mar­ket bear­ings.

“It’s one of the most ridicu­lous pro­grams in the en­tire fed­eral gov­ern­ment, and that’s say­ing some­thing,” said Rep. Tom Mc­Clin­tock, R-Calif.

Some GOP mod­er­ates are uneasy about the new work stan­dards for food stamps, which the Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice es­ti­mates would drive up to 2 mil­lion peo­ple off the pro­gram.

Cur­rently, adults ages 18

to 59 are re­quired to work part time or agree to ac­cept a job if they’re of­fered one. Stricter rules ap­ply to able­bod­ied adults with­out de­pen­dents be­tween the ages of 18 and 49, who are sub­ject to a three-month limit of ben­e­fits un­less they meet a work re­quire­ment of 80 hours per month.

The new bill ex­pands that re­quire­ment to ap­ply to all work-ca­pa­ble adults, man­dat­ing

that they ei­ther work or par­tic­i­pate in work train­ing for 20 hours per week with the ex­cep­tion of se­niors, pregnant women, care­tak­ers of chil­dren un­der the age of 6, or peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties.

For years, the twice-adecade ef­fort to re­write the farm bill has re­lied on a coali­tion of farm-state Repub­li­cans who back fed­eral agri­cul­ture sub­si­dies and other as­sis­tance and Democrats

sup­port­ing food stamps. This has proved frus­trat­ing to con­ser­va­tives seek­ing to make changes to ei­ther side of the mea­sure.

Rep. Vir­ginia Foxx, R.N.C., is be­hind a plan that would scrap pro­duc­tion lim­its, give the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture more power to boost sugar im­ports and elim­i­nate a gov­ern­ment pro­gram that sells sur­pluses to ethanol pro­duc­ers.

“Let’s be crys­tal clear about what the sugar pro­gram does: It puts the gov­ern­ment in charge of de­cid­ing how much sugar will be pro­duced in this coun­try, which in­flates the cost — and it guar­an­tees the pro­cess­ing in­dus­try a base profit by giv­ing them sub­si­dized loans,” Foxx said Thurs­day. “We stopped these prac­tices years ago for other com­modi­ties and only sugar is left with this sweet deal.”

J. SCOTT AP­PLE­WHITE — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., pro­motes this year’s re­newal of the farm bill Thurs­day dur­ing a news con­fer­ence on Capi­tol Hill.

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