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Florida congressman’s bill would do away with U.S. raisin reserve

A Florida congressman has introduced a bill that would eliminate one of the U.S. government’s most unusual institutions: the Raisin Administrative Committee, keepers of the national raisin reserve.

The raisin reserve is a program established by the Truman administration which gives the Agriculture Department a heavy-handed power to meddle in the supply and demand for raisins.

To limit the supply of raisins on the market, the government can simply take tons of raisins from the farmers who grew them. The raisins go into a “reserve.” They are often kept off the U.S. market: sold overseas, perhaps, or given to needy schoolchildren.

Sometimes, the farmers don’t get paid a cent in return.

A decade ago, California farmer Marvin Horne defied the reserve, refusing to hand over his raisins to the government. The Agriculture Department took him to court, and this year the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

Marvin Horne didn’t like the obscure law allowing the federal government to take nearly half his raisins without compensation. More than a decade after he began his crusade the case reached the Supreme Court. David Fahrenthold has his story. (The Fold/The Washington Post)

The high court sent Horne’s case back to an appeals court in California, which will soon hear Horne’s argument that the Constitution prohibits government from taking his raisins without just compensation. Horne’s case was featured in a Washington Post article in early July.

On Thursday, Rep. Trey Radel (R) introduced a bill that would eliminate the reserve’s legal underpinnings. It would end the 1949 rule, Marketing Order 989, that created the Raisin Administrative Committee and the reserve.

“In my opinion, this is nothing short of theft,” said Radel, a freshman member from the Fort Myers area. He said he had no ties to the raisin industry or to raisin farmers, mainly located thousands of miles away in Northern California.

“I think it violates the Fifth Amendment [principle] of just compensation,” Radel said. “Because there’s no compensation. Because they just go in there and take the raisins.”

Radel’s bill has been referred to the House Agriculture Committee, of which Radel is not a member.

David A. Fahrenthold covers Congress for the Washington Post. He has been at the Post since 2000, and previously covered (in order) the D.C. police, New England, and the environment.

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