The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Sugar! Oh, Help Me, Help Me!

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


Sugar, Sugar” was the Number One single of 1969.  The Archies, a fictional band comprised of comic book characters, rode the bubblegum hit to even greater fame than they already enjoyed on Saturday morning television.  So, given the ageless nature of these cartoon crooners, I wonder if they could be conjured up today to sing a slightly-tweaked encore.  The new lyrics – sung to the original melody, of course – might sound something like this: Congress! Oh, help me, help me! You are my price-fixerrrrrrrr…  and you got me wantin’ you! Directed to Big Sugar’s patrons in Washington, the updated tune would reference the commodity’s reliance on government protections that keep prices artificially high.  Over the past four years, the costly Depression-era federal sugar program has imposed a $14 billion hidden food tax on American consumers and businesses in order to provide a special interest subsidy to sugar producers.  To counter this policy, a bipartisan array of diverse politicians, led by Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Pat Toomey – a New Hampshire Democrat and a Pennsylvania Republican, respectively – along with a handful of their Senate colleagues and a small army from both sides of the aisle in the House of Representatives, has co-sponsored bicameral legislation to reform the program. The Sugar Reform Act (H.R. 693/S. 345) would make modest reforms to the sugar program by rolling back its most restrictive and market-distorting provisions enacted as part of the 2008 farm bill.  The legislation would create a competitive U.S. sugar market, without unnecessary and costly government intrusion, including:

  • Repealing new, additional import restrictions that were added in 2008.
  • Repealing the Feedstock Flexibility Program, a convoluted scheme that requires the U.S. government to purchase surplus sugar and re-sell it to ethanol plants at a loss to      taxpayers.
  • Returning sugar price supports to their 2008 levels.

According to the Coalition for Sugar Reform, U.S. sugar prices have been 64 to 92 percent higher than world averages during the past four calendar years.  Due in large part to high prices, nearly 127,000 jobs were lost in U.S. sugar-using industries between 1997 and 2011.  In addition, the U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that for every sugar-growing job saved through high U.S. sugar prices, approximately three American manufacturing jobs are lost.  Furthermore, while only 4,700 sugar farms in the United States benefit from the federal sugar program, there are approximately 600,000 U.S. jobs in food industries that use sugar. With recent news that the program could force the U.S. Department of Agriculture — and ultimately, taxpayers — to pay upwards of $100 million for excess sugar due to potential sugar loan forfeitures, efforts to reform the program could not come at a better time.  But not before this latest absurdity bled into late-night television, thanks to the Tonight Show’s Jay Leno.  In his March 19th monologue, Jay joked:  “I saw this in the paper today, the Department of Agriculture wants to use our tax money to buy 400,000 tons of sugar to limit supply and boost prices so sugar producers can pay back government loans that they could default on. You follow me here on this? We loaned them money and now we’re giving them more money so they can pay back our loan. You still wonder why we’re 16 trillion dollars in debt?  Anybody?” Good point, Jay.  I just hope that our respective audiences pay attention.  

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