The Carter administration found allies yesterday in its long fight against legislation that would boost the price of sugar.
Rep. David A. Stockman (R-Mich.), speaking at a news conference with Reps. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) and Willis Gradison (R-Ohio), said that legislation approved by the House Agriculture Committee is a "price-fixing scheme" that would greatly enrich producres at the expense of consumers and cut foreign companies out of the U.S. market.
Stockman said the bill, scheduled for floor action later this week, would cost consumers an extra $6 billion and would push the sugar support price to 25 cents a pound by 1983.
"We will make every effort to defeat the bill and send the Agriculture Committee back to the drawing board," Stockman said.
The bill, strongly opposed by the Carter administration, would initially raise the sugar support price from 14 cents a pound to 16 cents a pound and allow for quarterly increases through 1983.
It also authorizes quotes and fees to limit sugar imports and provides sugar industry workers a minimum wage of $3 an hour beginning in September 1979, increasing 20 cents an hour yearly.
In addition, the Agriculture Committee bill provides for implementation of the International Sugar Agreement, which was negotiated by the United States and 71 other countries last year to stabilize world sugar prices.
Stockman said he also opposes a House Ways and Means Committee bill that would set the minimum per pound price at 15 cents and compensate growers for production cost increases through direct payments or import duties on foreign competition, relying on import quotas only as a last resort.
In addition to the almost certain inflation it would spur, the Carter administration opposes the Agriculture Committee agreement because it would increase cane and domestic beet sugar products when foreign and corn sweetened products are on the rise, a spokesman for the Agriculture Department said.
"We would be almost forced to use import quotas" at a time when the United States is trying to improve international trade channels through the International Sugar Agreement, USDA spokesman James Webster said.
The administration wants to defeat the Agriculture Committee bill, but would support the other bill if amended to eliminate both the price escalator and the minimum, wage guarantees.
Stockman, who said he will offer an amendment to eliminate the agriculture secretary's authority to use tariffs and quotas to assure profits for domestic producers, said he believes the legislation is an attempt to "bail out" speculative investments that resulted from soaring sugar prices in 1974 and 1975. He said some sugar producers increased their capacity up to 75 percent, and were "stuck high and dry" when prices declined.
The United States uses about 30 percent of world sugar exports, much of it coming from developing countries that also get U.S. foreign aid. To curtail the market for sugar imports here would "wreck the economics" of these nations and contradict the purpose of approximately $6 billion given them over the last decade, according to Stockman.
According to USDA figures released yesterday, the Agriculture Committee bill would cost sugar consumers about $792 milliob extra each year or $3.9 billion before it expires in 1983. The Ways and Means bill would cost $97 million a year or $485 million total.
The respective committee chairmen are scheduled to lead off the two hours of debate alloted for each proposal on the House floor Thursday.