This post has been updated. It originally published at 7:15 a.m.
The House didn't get to the farm bill before members left town this week, but that did not stop sugar and candy lobbyists from stalking the halls of Capitol Hill.
In one corner is the sugar industry, which wants the sugar program authorized in the current farm bill to continue. In the other is the candy and confectioners industry, which favors repealing or reforming the program that allows the government to place tariffs on foreign sugar, with the exception of Mexico (see NAFTA).
(RELATED: Sugar and Candy Ads on the Hill)
Both sides are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying Congress on the provision, but the sugar producers have the wind at their back. The Senate-passed farm bill includes the program--a longtime staple--as does the version passed by the House Agriculture Committee. Producers argue the program costs taxpayers nothing and that if U.S. sugar isn't protected, like the candy and confectioners want, prices would not automatically drop.
"I've been in this business over 30 years," said the American Sugarbeet Growers Association's Luther Markwart. "We've tracked this stuff, and their prices don't come down for lower sugar prices. We see it at the farm level. But the consumer doesn't see it."
The confectioners, who are hosting approximately 100 small- and medium-sized businesses in Washington this week, disagree. They say there absolutely is a cost to keeping global sugar out of the U.S. market.
"There's a real cost to jobs," said the National Confectioners Association's Liz Clark. "This program is really a disincentive to operate in the U.S. If Canada says, 'Hey, if you come up here ... then you can have access to sugar that's on the world market,' " that hurts U.S. workers.
The confectioners have a steeper climb to get the provisions they want into the bill, but Clark said she thinks the legislation could pick up support from lawmakers opposed to tariffs if it gets to the House floor.
"We need to let every member of Congress have a say and have a vote--and not take this straight to conference. Most members who represent candy are not on the Ag Committee," she added.
Still, the sugar producers think they're making a stronger pitch to lawmakers.
"What we chafe at is when they make the argument to Congress that we have to get prices down to pass that onto people. But that just doesn't happen," said Jack Roney of the American Sugar Alliance.
A version of this article also appeared in National Journal Daily.
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