WASHINGTON, August 5, 2015 – With House members already back in their districts for the August recess and Senators scheduled for their own state work period by the end of this week, sugar producers are savoring another victory in the perennial battle to save their price-support program from congressional attacks. The win this time didn’t require winning a vote. It required stopping one from taking place, and some help from some friends in agriculture.
The Corn Refiners Association started lobbying this year for an amendment to a USDA appropriations bill that could roll back the sugar program. But as it turned out CRA couldn’t get a vote on the sugar measure in either the House or the Senate Appropriations committees, and the USDA appropriations bill likely won’t be considered on the floor in either chamber this year.
Rep. Charles Dent, an Illinois Republican, prepared a sugar amendment to the fiscal 2016 USDA appropriations bill, but wound up not offering it during the House committee’s markup last month. “I want to make sure we have our votes in order before we do such a thing,” he said later.
A few days later, Senate appropriator Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., offered an amendment during her committee’s markup of its version of the USDA bill, but she quickly withdrew it before there could even be any debate, much less a vote. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., tried to speak in the program’s defense but was cut off by Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran of Mississippi, who noted that there was no amendment to consider.
The sugar producers’ defense was aided by a series of letters that went to the House and Senate committees from groups such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union, Farm Credit Council, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and the National Cotton Council. The National Corn Growers, too, opposed such an amendment because it could open the door to further farm bill revisions, said Jon Doggett, NCGA executive vice president. In some cases, the letters opposed cuts to crop insurance as well as the sugar program.
In its letter, NFU said it “opposes any amendment seeking to destroy the current US sugar program, which would accelerate the decline of sugar producers and refiners here at home, driving family farmers off the land and ending a range of manufacturing jobs.”
In a statement, the American Sugar Alliance said sugar producers were “grateful that so many peers from the agricultural community would speak in opposition to potential amendments that could gut U.S. sugar policy and outsource the country’s sugar production to subsidized foreign industries. Likewise, we have always worked hand-in-hand with others in agriculture to defend the farm bill and ensure it is not re-opened so soon after passage.”
During the 32nd Annual Sweetener Symposium in New Mexico this week, sugar growers found comfort in comments from the Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the panel's ranking Democrat, who firmly promised to prevent sugar program changes in a video message to the conference.
"I have no intention of reopening and redebating the farm bill" to allow any change in the sugar program, Roberts declared. Stabenow added that the farm bill's sugar provisions are "locked in with certainty."
With the chances for an appropriations amendment likely gone, the corn refiners’ effort appears to be at a dead end for this year. But the group said in a statement that it wasn’t giving up hope: “CRA continues to engage on sugar and sees momentum building. We will continue to work with the amendment sponsors to identify opportunities for a floor vote.”
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