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Big Sugar wins again

A push to reform the sugar program was defeated in the House.

UPDATE: The entire farm bill was defeated on Friday, a major blow for the GOP leadership.

WASHINGTON – Big Sugar did it again, defeating a move to curb the government subsidies the industry receives and protection from foreign competition.

On Thursday, the House defeated an amendment to the farm bill that was offered by Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C.,  a critic of the program.

In a sign of how powerful the industry is in Florida, all but three of the state's representatives voted against the measure: Ron DeSantis, Brian Mast and Francis Rooney, all Republicans.

How Florida House members voted on an amendment to change the sugar program.
How Florida House members voted on an amendment to change the sugar program.

From the Associated Press:

The sugar program is part of an amalgam of commodity support programs that have sweeping backing in Republican-leaning farm country. But many 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.

Foxx’s sugar plan would have scrapped production limits, given the Department of Agriculture more power to boost sugar imports and eliminated 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.”

A comparable vote five years ago was very close, but Thursday’s tally was a runaway. Democrats voted overwhelmingly to defend the sugar program, as did a majority of Republicans, heeding warnings that unraveling it would threaten the entire farm bill.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said Foxx’s proposal was a “poison pill” since its passage could bleed support for the underlying farm bill and force Republicans in some areas to take a politically tough vote.

Indeed, a string of lawmakers from Minnesota, Florida, Michigan, Texas and Nebraska rose up to defend the program and the thousands of jobs it supports in their states.