A spoonful of sugar

While the 2012 farm bill does indeed include a modicum of reasonable reforms, one travesty remains: the indefensible sugar subsidy.

On Wednesday, the Senate voted 50-46 to effectively kill an effort to eliminate the subsidy, which shields about 5,000 producers by restricting imports.

Not only do these import quotas increase the prices of thousands of products - the Cato Institute notes that a U.S. buyer pays 36 cents for a pound of sugar, while those in other countries pay about 18 cents - they help keep thousands of sugar growers in poor Caribbean nations in poverty by eliminating a lucrative market.

Sugar farmers have long been a formidable lobbying presence in Washington. Bloomberg News reports that Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the Agriculture Committee, received almost $50,000 from sugar growers in 2011. Not surprisingly, she favors protection for U.S. sugar farmers.

In the end, American consumers - including everybody in Nevada - are forced to pay millions of dollars in higher prices, and the economy suffers as companies that use sugar are hit with more costs. Some candy makers have even relocated out of the country to have access to cheaper sugar.

Bloomberg reports an Iowa State University study found that "doing away with the sugar program could save American consumers $3.5 billion and create 20,000 more jobs a year in the food industry."

Sen. Richard Lugar, the Indiana Republican who sponsored the amendment to eliminate the subsidy, made his case: "Government manipulation to increase U.S. sugar prices is driving jobs across the border and taxing American consumers. Continuing Big Sugar's handout costs private sector jobs at a time when the farm bill should be enhancing job growth."

In the end, though, such common sense failed to carry the day. Which tells you all you need to know about Washington.