Over the past few years, I've worked hard with Democrats and Republicans to reform the Department of Agriculture sugar program. I'm sure you've heard of crazy government programs that used to pay farmers not to raise pigs or not to grow crops. While many of these programs have seen reforms in recent years, the sugar program keeps going almost as it has since the Great Depression.
The sugar program sets the amount of sugar that can be sold in the U.S. It then sets how much sugar can be imported into the country. Finally, growers and processors are backed with government loans that pay out in the event that prices are too low. All these mechanisms guarantee that growing sugar is profitable year after year.
That's a great deal if you are involved in the sugar industry, but it's a raw deal for consumers and businesses that use sugar. Many of these businesses are right here in Pennsylvania and they are not all candy companies. Many food businesses use sugar and because of the government program, it is an expensive commodity. Consumers and sugar users sometimes pay double the world market average for sugar.
Food businesses have foreign competition just the same as the sugar industry, but there is no taxpayer-backed loan program, tariffs or quotas to protect them. Hundreds of thousands of these jobs have left American shores in recent years. The federal government's own Department of Commerce maintains that the program destroys three jobs in other industries for each sugar industry job it protects.
Last year, when the House considered a five-year farm bill, my amendment to reform the program was narrowly defeated. At that time, proponents of the sugar program claimed that it cost taxpayers nothing at all. But, just a few months later, as sugar prices fell, taxpayers paid a bailout of $278 million to the industry.
The industry and its lobbyists won, but they are worried that reform is going to end their sweet deal sooner rather than later. They are fighting back with one of the most preposterous campaigns I've ever seen in my time in politics.
Industry allies are pushing a bill that says the U.S. will reform its sugar program once every other country in the world has ended their own support system. Basically, what they are saying is that we have to wait for socialism to end worldwide before consumers and taxpayers get a fair deal here.
No commodity or product has ever been granted that level of protectionism. Ask steel workers or auto plant workers if their jobs have been protected like this over the past few decades? How many more taxpayer bailouts should we keep paying? Should the industry get $300 million every year?
I believe free trade policies work. In fact, when we negotiate free trade agreements American workers win. Right now, we sell more goods to our trade agreement partners than they buy from us; to the tune of $59 billion a year. For countries that we don't have a trade agreement with, the opposite is true. Our trade deficit with these partners was $508 billion last year.
The sugar program is actually an impediment to signing new trade deals with Pacific Rim countries. The President is currently trying to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but our protectionist sugar policy is one of the sticking points.
Reforming the sugar program doesn't mean the end of the American sugar industry. My amendment last year only would have rolled the program back to pre-2007 policy. It was a modest reform and yet it was fought tooth and nail.
Corn, wheat, soybean, cotton and every other commodity grower in the U.S. saw their programs reformed in the direction of the free market last year. It's time that we stopped pretending that the sugar industry can't operate in the free market along with everyone else.
Even many Democrats without conservative economic principle recognize that the program hurts American workers and hurts American pocketbooks. I'm going to keep fighting against crony capitalism that keeps sugar industry barons wealthy at the expense of everyone else.