WASHINGTON (AP) — Louisiana's $3.5 billion sugarcane and sugar mill industries could breathe a sigh of relief after an effort to effectively end the federal sugar program was defeated on the Senate floor.
The nearly $1 trillion Senate farm bill being debated this week keeps the federal sugar program intact and provides the option for price-control insurance for southwestern Louisiana rice farms that was lacking in last year's version of the bill.
But a proposed amendment by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., to end the federal import restrictions on sugar was defeated Wednesday on a 45 to 54 vote with both U.S. senators from Louisiana, Mary Landrieu and David Vitter, in opposition.
"The amendment would effectively kill America's no-cost sugar program," Landrieu said, noting that Louisiana has 427,000 acres of sugarcane in 22 parishes and adding that the state's sugar mills produced a record 1.6 tons of raw sugar last year.
Shaheen and Toomey argued the program prevents a free market and increases costs for consumers.
"What we have here is a sweet deal for sugar growers and a bad deal for consumers," Shaheen said.
The Advocate reports (http://bit.ly/16boLPu ) Landrieu countered that sugar costs in the U.S. are still 14 percent lower than the world average and that the sugar program maybe affects the cost of a candy bar by a "penny or two."
While the House farm bill proposal also maintains the sugar program, a tougher fight to keep it is expected in that chamber where a simple majority vote is needed for amendments. The Senate is debating amendments on a 60-vote threshold.
Vitter said the Senate farm bill is much better than last year's version, which was passed by the Senate but died in the House for a lack of action during the so-called "fiscal cliff" fight at the end of the year.
"It deals with a lot of Louisiana crops in a lot fairer way," Vitter said of the Senate bill.