(Springfield - May 18, 2018) As evidence of a troubling trend of voting consistent with special interests groups, yesterday Rep. Richard Neal voted against an amendment to the 2018 Farm Bill that would have reformed the federal sugar support program that one think tank called "perhaps the least defensible corporate welfare boondoggle on the federal books.”
Unlike the Red River Valley of Minnesota and North Dakota, no sugar beets are grown in Massachusetts. We do not grow sugarcane like Florida and Louisiana. However, during his years in Congress, Rep. Neal has regularly voted to maintain a costly government sugar program that benefits just a handful of giant sugar processors and less than 6,000 farmers. The likely reason? Political contributions from special interests in the sugar industry.
The U.S. sugar program uses import quotas, marketing allotments, price supports and tariffs to artificially raise the price of sugar. One think tank called the program a classic government-created cartel.
“We need to reform the sugar program which the Washington Post in a recent editorial called ‘grotesque’. This is why I support H.R. 4265, the Sugar Modernization Act of 2017,” said Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, who is challenging Rep. Neal in the September 4 Democratic primary. “This legislation would help consumers and food makers instead of a handful of wealthy sugar processors by getting rid of market allotments and the overly-restrictive regulations on sugar imports.”
Siding with the sugar lobby has been paying off for the representative in the form of a steady stream of campaign contributions from the industry. During consideration of the fiscal year 1999 Agriculture Appropriations bill, Neal voted against and helped kill an amendment to cut sugar price supports by one cent per pound to 17 cents for cane sugar and 21.9 cents for beet sugar.
During debate on the 2001 Farm Bill, Rep. Neal opposed an amendment that would have reduced the sugar loan rates loan rates by 1 cent, increased the forfeiture penalty by 1 cent per pound, and authorized up to $300 million in resulting savings for conservation and environmental stewardship programs, with a priority for Everglades restoration.
In 2005, when the House considered the fiscal year 2006 Agriculture Department spending bill, Rep. Neal voted against an amendment that would have barred use of funds in the bill for salaries or expenses of personnel who make loans in excess of 17 cents per pound for domestically grown raw sugar cane or 21.6 cents per pound for refined beet sugar from domestically grown beets. Six of the 10-member Massachusetts House delegation voted yes.
Rep. Neal also voted against an amendment to strike the sugar sections in the commodity title from the 2007 Farm Bill which helped keep in place a 10-year subsidy plan that raised support prices by half a cent per pound and guaranteed American sugar producers at least an 85 percent share of the domestic market through 2012. Estimates by the Government Accountability Office show the sugar price program from the 2007 Farm Bill, cost food manufacturers and consumers between $1 billion and $2 billion per year in higher prices for the sweetener and all of the products that contain it as an ingredient. Current costs for small businesses and consumers by the American Enterprise Institute peg the sugar program at between $2.4 and $4 billion annually.
More recently, Rep. Neal voted against an amendment that directed the secretary of agriculture to lower loan rates for domestic sugar cane producers to 18 cents per pound for raw cane sugar for each crop year 2014 through 2018. It would have required the secretary to revise trade tariffs to lower the sugar stocks-to-use ratio to 15.5 percent. The USDA would be required to administer marketing allotments to ensure sugar supplies, be authorized to suspend or modify any marketing allotment provision and be required to exercise discretion in administering the import quota to provide for adequate sugar supplies at “reasonable prices.” It would also repeal the sugar-to-ethanol program.
Rep. Neal also voted against a resolution that would express the sense of the House that 2013 House farm bill conferees should propose repeal of provisions of the 2008 farm programs law dealing with tariffs in the federal sugar support program, in order to restore the agriculture secretary’s authority to manage supplies of sugar throughout the marketing year to meet domestic demand at reasonable prices.
Here in Massachusetts, approximately 13,400 jobs are generated among the 436 establishments that produce breads and bakery products, chocolate and chocolate confectionery manufacturing, ice cream and frozen desserts, snack foods, breakfast cereals, soft drinks and other products. The U.S. Census Bureau says that the costly sugar program has killed some 123,000 jobs between 1997 and 2015. The Department of Commerce estimates that for every sugar-producing job protected through high U.S. sugar process, about three manufacturing jobs are lost.
While Americans are losing these precious jobs, Rep. Neal has increased his campaign coffers on sugar industry monies. Between 2000 and 2014, Neal received $16,000 in PAC checks from seven groups such as American Crystal Sugar Co., a Minnesota-based sugar beet cooperative and the Florida Sugar Cane League, which represents large sugar conglomerates like Florida Crystals and the U.S. Sugar Corporation (see chart).
This vote on sugar is a blatant example of the representative’s history of voting with those entities that contribute to his political campaign over the needs of constituents and working class families.
Between 2000 and 2014, Rep. Neal received $16,000 in campaign donations from sugar industry PACs.