The Congressional Sweet Tooth

If there’s one thing both sides can agree on, it’s preserving the wasteful sugar subsidy.

A supervisor checks a sugar can field near Belle Glade, Fla. Thursday, Jan. 7, 2010.
A supervisor checks a sugar can field near Belle Glade, Fla. Thursday, Jan. 7, 2010.

Common ground is in short supply as members of Congress work to reach a budget deal by the end of the week. No surprise there given that one side favors increasing overall spending and the other wants to decrease it. But there's one thing the two parties ought to be able to agree on: ending the practice of handing out taxpayer-funded goodies to one of the wealthiest industries in the country.

Unfortunately, the government's billion-dollar sugar protection program is about the only thing that nobody on either side is talking about cutting.

Opposing such a cut should be political suicide for Republicans and Democrats alike. The protections, which the Washington Post recently described as "an elaborate system of import quotas, price floors and taxpayer-backed loans designed to prop up domestic growers," do the opposite of serve the public good – they ratchet up the price millions of American consumers are forced to pay for a wide array of goods, solely in order to boost profits for small number of politically connected growers.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

It's hard to decide which party takes the prize for hypocrisy when it comes to this issue. On the one hand, it requires quite a demonstration of moral flexibility for liberals to claim the mantle of being "for the 99 percent" while redistributing dollars away from the middle class and toward the already rich. On the other hand, conservatives who argue the merits of free enterprise when that means taking money out of the hands of food stamp recipients but shrug off public policy that rigs the system in favor of special interests are doing more to sully the name of capitalism than any 10 social welfare Democrats combined.

When big businesses are permitted, under the banner of "free markets," to wield government as a tool to stifle competition, everybody loses.

Unless, that is, you're a member of the one-thousandth of a percent who benefits from our sugar protection policies. But I don't like your odds.

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