Congressman Hawks Nonsense For Sugar Industry, One Of His Largest Donors

Rep. Tom Rooney (FL-16)

Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL) made a nonsensical argument in a recent op-ed piece that just happens to support a tax benefit for one of his largest donors, the sugar industry. Rooney’s op-ed defends the heavy tariffs the U.S. places on imported sugar as means to prop up the American industry, despite Rooney’s own stated belief that “expanding free trade” is critical to the growth of the U.S. economy:

Sugar producers from my home state of Florida, and across this country, have some of the lowest production costs in the world. However, they cannot compete with the heavy hand of the Brazilian government, or with Brazil’s sugar labor force that, in some cases, makes just 50 cents an hour.

After European governments allowed Europe’s sugar industry to go out of business, 120,000 Europeans lost their jobs, sugar supplies fell and prices rose. There were even reports of sugar rationing in Germany. America hasn’t seen sugar rationing since World War II, the last time we depended on foreign sugar producers.

Rooney is simultaneously arguing that 1) Brazil would destroy the American sugar industry by selling cheaper sugar and 2) that sugar would be more expensive if we imported more of it. Both cannot be true. And while Rooney claims sugar tariffs don’t “cost taxpayers a dime,” the GAO estimated in 2000 that they knocked $900 million dollars off of U.S. GDP in 1998, a figure that rises to $1.2 billion in 2011 dollars (assuming losses were constant).

Moreover, the European sugar industry is anything but out of business: the EU supplies roughly 10 percent of the world’s sugar. The 120,000 jobs figure comes from a study written by a consultant to the sugar industry that was released at the 29th Annual Sweetener Symposium.

Trusting the sugar industry appears to be a theme for Rooney. U.S. Sugar, America’s largest sugar corporation, was the second-largest corporate contributor to Rooney’s campaign in the last election. He also received a significant donation from U.S. Crystal, another major player in the American sugar market. Rooney’s district, FL-16, is also the single-largest sugar cane growing district in the country.

The U.S. sugar industry is, of course, the staunchest supporter of maintaining the sugar tariff.