Chuck Muth: Weaning sugar from its government sugar daddies

A new farm bill has passed in Sen. Harry Reid’s Senate and been killed in the conservative House. When new legislation is inevitably resurrected, Congress should take the opportunity to take a serious look at reforming the government’s sugar policy, even though the sugar-beet industry in Nevada has been gone for years.

The problem for conservatives here is that philosophical idealism is butting up against political reality. We have a rapidly changing world market in which what was so in the Reagan era isn’t necessarily so in today’s post-NAFTA here and now.

Ideally, the U.S. sugar industry should receive no government assistance of any kind in the global free market. On that, conservatives are in agreement.

And even though U.S. sugar producers, unlike farmers of other crops, have received ZERO taxpayer dollars for more than 10 years now, they still are protected from unlimited foreign imports of heavily subsidized cheap sugar through a combination of tariffs and import quotas.

Which is where philosophical free-marketers brush up against political reality.

Conservatives have been trying to wean the sugar industry from even this comparatively modest government support for 30 years, without success. In fact, the latest efforts to kill the sugar program — including three Senate losses and one House loss in two years — have all been handily throttled.

What’s that well-known definition of insanity again?

Which is why some conservatives have embraced what is being called a “zero-for-zero” strategy to eliminate all government assistance programs for sugar worldwide. In fact, conservative Republican Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida has introduced a bipartisan resolution in the House (HCR 39) that expresses the sense of Congress that “all direct and indirect subsidies that benefit the production or export of sugar by all major sugar-producing and consuming countries should be eliminated.”

Hard to argue that objective. In fact, even the American sugar lobby agrees with it and supports the resolution. But here’s where the conservative schism occurs …

Philosophical purists want the U.S. to adopt this position immediately and unilaterally, without any simultaneous agreement from its international competitors to follow suit. Sorry, Charlie, that’s a non-starter.

Which is why a number of practical free-market conservative organizations — including Citizen Outreach, the American Conservative Union, the Institute for Liberty, Frontiers of Freedom and the 60-Plus Association — have embraced Rep. Yoho’s zero-for-zero strategy.

Long shot though it may be, reality dictates it’s the only shot for free-market sugar.

So conservatives have a choice. They can sit in principle on their high horse and get absolutely nowhere on eliminating the U.S. sugar program, or they can fight for a zero-for-zero strategy that currently holds out the only hope of weaning the domestic sugar industry from its Uncle Sam sugar daddy.

What’s the old saying about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good?

Chuck Muth is president of Citizen Outreach, a conservative grassroots advocacy organization. He can be reached at


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