Opinion
Various size cups and sugar cubes  are displayed at a news conference at New York

More Failed Votes Won’t Fix America’s Crony Sugar Market

Photo of Jim Martin
Jim Martin
Chairman, 60 Plus Association
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      Jim Martin

      Mr. Martin serves as the President of the 60 Plus Association, which has been called an "increasingly influential lobbying group for the elderly--often viewed as the conservative alternative to the American Association of Retired Persons."

      Jim Martin joined the Marine Corps in 1953 at age 17 as the Korean "conflict" concluded and served on active duty until 1958. In 1955, his Battalion Commander awarded Jim a meritorious citation for "exemplary conduct and leadership qualities exhibited in the performance of duties." In 1956 Sergeant Jim Martin began a two-year tour of duty as an elite Marine Security Guard at the American Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia.

      Jim entered the University of Florida in 1959 and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism in 1962, where he received the William Randolph Hearst reporting award for creative writing. Jim came to Washington in 1962 where he covered Congress and the White House for two years during the Kennedy-Johnson administration as a newspaper reporter and radio/TV broadcaster for 3 dozen media outlets in the South. Jim served for six years as Chief of Staff to Congressman, then Senator, the late Edward J. Gurney (R-FL), 1964-69.

      He has helped to organize and direct several advocacy groups including the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC) and the Public Service Research Council (PSRC) (Americans Against Union Control of Government), which opposes public sector compulsory unionism as a threat to elected representation

      60 Plus is a hard hitting organization dedicated to protecting the tax rights of seniors, and to repealing the most confiscatory of all taxes--the inheritance or estate (death) tax. Jim Martin has been quoted as saying that while there are two certainties in life, taxes and death, now, thanks to the death tax, Jim adds a third certainty--taxes after death. 60 Plus presents a Benjamin Franklin Award to Members of Congress in both parties who sponsor legislation to abolish the third certainty, taxes after death. Original sponsors are Rep. Chris Cox (R-CA) and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ).

      60 Plus, now eleven years old, has grown to over 500,000 citizen lobbyists nationally. 60 Plus is the only conservative senior citizens group to publish a Congressional Rating System, scoring Members of Congress based on their pro-senior votes. In the 105th Congress, 60 Plus presented the non-partisan GUARDIAN OF SENIORS' RIGHTS AWARD, to 254 Members, Republicans and Democrats, in both the House and the Senate.

      Mr. Martin has also been a vocal critic of taxpayer subsidized political advocacy groups. In 1995, he testified four times before Congress on this volatile issue where he spotlighted the fact that more than 40 seniors' organizations receive hundreds of millions of tax dollars and, as Jim puts it, "politick openly and blatantly with said dollars." Jim correctly pointed out that this was "just the tip of the iceberg" and subsequent Congressional investigations substantiated the charge that there is at least a '39 billion dollar dirty little secret' in Washington, to wit your "tax dollars at work in all sorts of illegal ways and for political activities for which you may not be in agreement."

Fiscal conservatives don’t like farm subsidies. They don’t like unnecessary hurdles to trade. And they certainly don’t like taxes or inflated consumer prices.

So it’s no wonder that many conservatives don’t like America’s sugar policy, which is an intricate web of guaranteed government loans, tariffs, quotas and market intervention. A persuasive argument can be made these policies are bad for taxpayers and bad for consumers, especially America’s seniors, who pay a disproportionate share of their income toward food staples which rely heavily on sugar.

However, there is a growing split within conservative circles about how to reform the U.S. sugar program, since forcing change through traditional legislative channels has proven to be unworkable.

During debate of the recently passed farm bill there were five votes specifically targeted at sugar policy on the floors of the House and Senate. There were also two votes at the committee level, and all of them ended the exact same way – in bipartisan defeat as lawmakers refused to decimate an industry vital to many rural communities.

With the exception of food stamps, no farm bill component even came close to receiving the floor time that sugar did, which is amazing since sugar policy costs taxpayers far less than other farm bill subsidy or nutrition programs.

And it doesn’t look like the trend of good intentions going down in flames is going to change anytime soon. The House Appropriations Committee voted on yet another anti-sugar amendment May 29, and that amendment was royally drubbed in an embarrassing 18 to 32 vote.

Sugar reform proponents have not changed tactics in nearly three decades, and in that time, we haven’t won a single vote. At some point, we must evolve to focus our time and resources in better ways.

Tom Giovanetti with the think tank Institute for Policy Innovation recently released a white paper that offers a new strategy with a global perspective. In it, he explained the grossly distorted world sugar market where America is but a bit player and global subsidies are rapidly climbing and turning free trade on its head.

It seems policy change in America might not matter much if foreign governments dominate the global supply chain and can hold U.S. consumers hostage through dependence and price setting.

Brazil, for example, is the OPEC of sugar and controls more than half of the world’s exports. At $2.5 billion a year in taxpayer assistance, this sugar supremacy didn’t come cheap and billions more in handouts appear to be forthcoming, which will strengthen the stranglehold that gives Brazil price manipulating power.

To compete, other exporters like India and Thailand have followed suit and expanded their government giveaways, which in turn, further distorts natural supply and demand conditions and harms consumers.

Closer to home, the Mexican government actually owns one-fifth of that country’s inefficient sugar industry and is using the advantages of a federal treasury to dump sugar into America and eliminate competition from the U.S. private sector and inject unsustainable price volatility.

What if all the money, all the time, and all the energy conservatives devoted to fruitless votes on U.S. sugar policy was instead dedicated to helping achieve a real global free market?