WASHINGTON - Despite the efforts of senators from Pennsylvania and New Jersey, a bid to phase out a Depression-era federal price-support program for sugar failed in the Senate on Wednesday. The 54-45 vote came on an amendment to the farm bill.
Sens. Bob Casey (D., Pa.), Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), and Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) had argued, among other concerns, that the supports raise costs for candymakers such as Hershey and Mars, strong presences in their states.
"For every job that we save among sugar producers, we lose three jobs among companies that manufacture with sugar," Toomey said on the Senate floor.
"The reason we lose those jobs is because those companies can't compete with foreign imports that don't have this crazy sugar program. We have candy companies that have left America and moved to Canada."
A supporter of the price supports, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D., La.), argued that the program protects 142,000 jobs in 22 states.
Also, senators rejected a Republican bid to turn over the federal food-stamp program to the states.
The food-stamp program is administered by the Agriculture Department and federal dollars are unlimited as long as recipients qualify. The program cost $78 billion last year, more than double the price in 2008.
A proposal by Sen. James M. Inhofe (R., Okla.) to a wide-ranging farm bill would have converted the program into grants to states, which could decide how to use the money, with certain restrictions. The Senate rejected the amendment, 60-36.
The total amount of the grants would have been capped at between $46 billion and $54 billion a year over 10 years. Inhofe said the change would make the farm bill, which long has set policy for domestic food aid as well as agriculture programs, "into a farm bill and not a charity bill."
Food stamps have come under renewed scrutiny as the program's costs have ballooned in recent years. Last year more than 47 million people used food stamps. The numbers have risen because of the economic downturn, higher food prices, and expanded eligibility under the 2009 economic-stimulus law.