by Carl Hiaasen
Cut by cut, the forced budget reductions known as the sequester are beginning to affect millions of Americans.
Still, not everyone who depends on the federal government is suffering in these austere times.
According to the
It's the sweetest of deals for the big companies that grow cane and beets. For years the government has guaranteed an artificially high price for American sugar, undercutting foreign competitors and inflating consumer prices for everything from soft drinks to breakfast cereal.
Last year, sugar processors under the price-support program borrowed
And the harvest was very good. Too good, apparently. The market got flooded.
Between February 2012 and February 2013, the price of beet sugar fell from
Consequently, the government's loans to processors are in danger of default. To avoid that, the USDA would take all the sugar and sell it at a discount rate to producers of ethanol, who'd mix it with the corn from which that fuel is distilled.
The transaction would result in Uncle Sam losing
What a brilliant system.
The major beneficiaries of this bailout would be cane growers in Florida and beet operations in Minnesota, Michigan and North Dakota. Big Sugar has outsized political clout in Washington, as evidenced by the silence of so-called fiscal conservatives.
Heavy campaign contributions are spread among Democrats and Republicans alike. Barack Obama took money from the sugar industry, as did Mitt Romney. Hefty donations went to both of Florida's senators, Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio.
Every time somebody in
In Florida, the bitter taste of the sugar subsidy goes back decades. The program helped to make multimillionaires out of people who prolifically polluted the Everglades, and who for years fought all efforts to make them clean up their waste water.
(One of the state's largest cane producers, U. S. Sugar, said earlier this month that it has no outstanding USDA loans. The government hasn't provided a list of the sugar companies that would gain from the bailout.)
Those who defend Big Sugar say price supports don't really cost taxpayers anything -- except, of course, when the price of sugar dives.
And, not that Americans need an incentive to buy more Snickers bars or guzzle more Mountain Dew, but subsidies jack up consumer costs by about
Remember all the feigned outrage on conservative talk radio when the government bailed out the auto industry? At least we taxpayers weren't forced to buy up all those acres of unsold Hummers.
Incidentally, American car makers don't have the advantage of being shielded from foreign manufacturers like
If you're in the sugar business in this country, you can depend on politicians to restrict imports and guarantee a set price for your crop _ the antithesis of free-market competition.
It's not a one-time shot, either. It's an ongoing gush of entitlement.
While we're cutting scholarships for the children of dead war heroes.
Big Sugar's Subsidy -- How Sweet It Is | Politics