WASHINGTON -- An amendment to the 2012 Farm Bill seeking to end a longstanding program of the U.S. government that falsely inflates sugar prices was defeated on June 13 by 50-46 vote in the Senate.
Closely watched by candy manufacturers and supported by the Coalition for Sugar Reform, the amendment sought to end subsidies to the sugar industry that critics claim keep the price of the sweet stuff artificially high. It was sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire, and had strong bipartisan support from many Republican Senators, including Sen. Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania.
"The sugar subsidy is unique," Shaheen said. "By artificially restricting supply, the federal subsidy program keeps prices for sugar in the United States at nearly twice the world average."
A tangle of tariffs and quotas, among other benefits, has protected domestic sugar-cane and sugar-beet growers since the Depression era. As a result, American consumers often pay more than twice the global market price. By some estimates, today's overage is $3.5 billion a year.
The close vote left supporters of sugar reform hopeful. According to Shaheen's office, the last time the Senate voted on a similar measure in 2001, the program was roundly defeated 71-29.
"Although members of the Coalition for Sugar Reform are disappointed that the Senate voted to table the Shaheen amendment by a 50-46 vote, we are encouraged that on a bipartisan basis, nearly half the Senate clearly sees the need to debate and reform current U.S. sugar policy," the coalition stated.