This week, I voted against the farm bill that came to the House floor. This bill was defeated 195 to 234. I was disappointed that I could not support the legislation, but it simply failed to make needed reforms to agriculture and nutrition programs.
My biggest disappointment was the failure of my bipartisan amendment to reform the sugar program. This year's farm bill made substantive changes to nearly every commodity program operated by the federal government except the sugar program.
The government controls sugar more tightly than perhaps any other market in the United States. It controls who can grow sugar, who can process it and how much can be imported. All these controls are geared toward one thing: ensuring that sugar growers and processors always profit.
When sugar prices are high, American consumers and companies pay nearly double the world market rate. This makes it especially tough on companies competing internationally. Products exported from the U.S. are more expensive, and products imported by foreign competitors are cheaper.
You may have heard that Hershey's is making a new chocolate for the Chinese market called Lancaster. That is manufactured right here in the 16th District. I'm proud that our local workers are competing globally and I don't want federal policies making it harder on them.
When prices are low, the government bails out sugar growers. Over the next few years, we could pay hundreds of millions of dollars to purchase excess sugar. That sugar will be sold to refiners at a loss and turned into ethanol.
The Department of Commerce found that for every single job this policy saves in the sugar industry, it destroys three in sugar-using industries. My colleague Danny Davis (D-IL) has seen numerous companies in his Chicago district close and move overseas because of high sugar costs. The government of Canada has actually advertised to U.S. companies that they should move and take advantage of lower sugar costs.
Simply put, this is a terrible policy. Unfortunately, too many Democrats and Republicans buy into protectionist arguments. Many of my colleagues who oppose subsidies for solar panels and electric cars vote to protect sugar.
While the amendment failed, the vote was narrow, 206-221. That is actually much better than votes on similar amendments in the past. I believe that our bipartisan push to end this corporate giveaway could prevail if another farm bill is considered.
While there were good reforms to nutritional programs, I was disappointed that an amendment that would have replicated the success of "90s welfare reform failed to pass. You may remember that the bipartisan welfare reform bill required able-bodied adults to work or look for work in order to remain on assistance.
These reforms worked, encouraging many Americans to get jobs that helped them move up the economic ladder and move off assistance. Unfortunately, they were not applied to all forms of government help.
I've visited nearly every food cupboard in the 16th District and I know how important nutritional programs are to many in our community. They help the elderly and young children get the food they need. However, the food stamp program doesn't require able-bodied adults to be looking for work. Welfare reform was a success and we should replicate that success by applying it to other programs.
Right now, it is uncertain what will happen with the farm bill. The Senate passed their own version and it is up to us in the House of Representatives to agree on one. Unfortunately, the old process of passing a farm bill just doesn't work anymore.
In the past, farm state legislators and city legislators worked together to get as much farm subsidies and food stamps as they could get. I voted against the farm bill when it came up in 2003 and 2008 because I think this is a poor way to decide how we spend the people's money.
Now with our country nearly $17 trillion in debt, that old bargain doesn't work anymore. If we are going to pass a farm bill, it must have real reform and it must have sustainable levels of spending.