For those consumers who think that grocery prices ought to be a little higher, and inflation ought to rise a little faster, there is hope. Your Congress is on the verge of raising the price of sugar. Import fees currently keep the wholesale price of foreign sugar up to 15 cents a pound for American buyers, regardless of its cost abroad. There's a bill to raise that price to 15.8 cents, with further increases over the next two years. The bill is likely to come to a vote in the House any day now.
It would cost consumers about $180 million a year -- half of it going to the government and the other half going to the American sugar producers whose prices would indirectly be raised. A mere $180 million isn't much for such a good cause, is it? That's only $2.50 per household. Please leave your share at the grocery checkout counter as you pass through. It will be forwarded automatically to the proper recipients.
Amidst so many tangled and difficult issues, the case for the sugar bill has an appealing simplicity -- the American sugar producers want more money. They say that they also need more money, although that is less clear. They are being squeezed by inflation, and their solution is to squeeze somebody else -- to wit, yourself. Beyond that, they see it as a matter of justice. They have hired numerous lobbyists and paid them well. They have contributed substantially to many congressional campaign funds. Shouldn't all of that hard work, worry and expense entitle them to eight-tenths of a cent?
It's a congression to take care of the sugar producers. From the 1930s until five years ago, the United States set quotas for the amounts of sugar that could be imported, regardless of price. That system collapsed, fortunately, after the bad weather led to the great run-up in world sugar prices in 1974. Congress then replaced it with the present system of import fees -- a system that is preferable to quotas, but only comparatively less costly to people who buy sugar.
If the House passes this bill, there is very little chance that it will be defeated in the Senate. Urban interests are far more heavily represented in the House. More specifically, in the Senate a sugar bill will enjoy the enthusiastic support of the chairman of the Finance Committee, Russell B. Long of Louisiana, and the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Frank Church of Idaho. Both come from states that produce sugar. Sen. Church, engaged in a difficult reelection campaign, is reported to take the sugar bill particularly seriously. That is why people in the House also ought to take it seriously -- particularly if they do not agree with Sens. Church and Long on the desirability of this substantial new redistribution of income sugarwards.