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How to Wean U.S. Sugar from its Uncle Sam Sugar Daddy

It’s not exactly news when Democrats and Republicans differ on an issue. Nor when the Left and the Right hold opposing views. Or even when moderate Republicans are at odds with conservative Republicans.

But when bona fide free-market conservatives are split with each other, that’s a story. And such is the case of government programs aiding the U.S. sugar industry.

The problem is two-fold: First, we have philosophical idealism butting up against political reality. And secondly, we have a rapidly changing world market in which what conservatives knew to be so in Reagan’s era aren’t necessarily so today. Especially post-NAFTA, which fully kicked in in 2008.

Ideally, the U.S. sugar industry would 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 ten years now, they are still 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 the old saying about the definition of insanity?

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 that have proved harder to kill than Barnabas Collins (ask your grandma).

In fact, conservative Republican Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida has introduced a bipartisan resolution in the House (HCR 39) which 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.”

HCR 39 calls on the Obama administration to negotiate, under the auspices of the World Trade Organization (WTO), an agreement to zero out all foreign government subsidies of sugar. And once such an agreement is satisfactorily hammered out, then the President would propose to Congress legislation to eliminate the current U.S. sugar support program.

Hard to argue that objective. In fact, even the 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. If so, that could well spell doom for domestic sugar producers who would find themselves competing against second-rate, third-world farmers whose governments continue to subsidize their inefficiencies.

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.

Longshot 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 presently 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?