The road to the White House is long and twisting indeed, and it has taken some unusual turns so far. Candidates have discussed fantasy football, their undergraduate college years, competitors’ physical appearances, who’s really the most successful, inheritances, and who saw whom in the green room before a television appearance.
Little of this noise affected agriculture though, until this week’s Republican Presidential debate made an unexpected detour down a rural country road. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), a well known opponent of agriculture (including ethanol and crop insurance), amazingly proclaimed that he wanted to reopen the Farm Bill and end U.S. sugar policy in order to boost defense spending.
Sugar policy cost taxpayers $0 in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, and 2015. It’s also projected to cost $0 throughout the life of the Farm Bill, which covers 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019.
You can’t buy many tanks, fighter jets, or aircraft carriers for $0, so it’s safe to say that sacrificing U.S. sugar farmers won’t be a big boost to our military might.
In fact, the only year in more than a decade that U.S. sugar policy cost a dime was in 2013 when the USDA had to take extraordinary actions to keep the North American sugar market from collapsing due to Mexican subsidies and unfair trading actions. The U.S. government even ruled that Mexico violated U.S. trade law during that period.
But, even if you count the one-time taxpayer expense resulting from Mexico’s sugar abuses, it would not have supplied enough cash to support America’s military spending for even 4 hours. The debates where this absurd plan was hatched took longer than that.
Yet during all that time, Sen. Cruz never mentioned how Mexican subsidies have hurt U.S. farmers across the country, including those in his home state. He never mentioned how the governments in Brazil, India, or Thailand are cheating the system and distorting the global sugar market to the detriment of America and free-market principles. He never mentioned that grocery shoppers in foreign countries pay 20% more for sugar than Americans.
Instead, he justified his attack by claiming that sugar producers account for 40% of all lobbying expenses.
Politico Pro did a great job rebutting this head-scratcher:
Forty percent of what? It’s not clear. But it’s hard to imagine any way to get there. Total spending on lobbying was $3.24 billion last year, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Agribusiness spent $127.5 million, or about 4 percent. The sugar cane and sugar beets industry? $9.6 million, or 0.3 percent.
Bashing farm policy might make for pithy zingers on the campaign trail, but politicians would be wise to stop trying to balance the budget on the backs of farmers. There’s simply not enough money there, and most Americans agree that protecting the country’s food and fiber supply is a worthwhile investment.
Presidential hopefuls might also want to keep in mind that there’s a whole lot of agriculture in swing states, and they’ll never arrive at 1600 Pennsylvania by running over farmers and ranchers along the way.