Rent-Seeking and Vote-Trading in the U.S. Senate

Last night the U.S. Senate played host to naked special-interest politics, as agricultural subsidy interests won vote after vote on the floor. As this story from Politico notes,

the sugar program stands out as one of the most intrusive of the commodity programs still on the books: a mix of price supports, import quotas, and since 2008, a feedstock program under which sugar can be purchased by the government to be used in biofuels.

The amendment Wednesday sought to end these purchases and roll back the price-support level from 18.75 cents per pound to 18 cents.

The amendment failed, 53-46. Some Republicans voted to keep the subsidies, including Marco Rubio of Florida. Even non-sugar-producing states’ senators voted to keep sugar subsidies:

And as a member of the Agriculture panel, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), warned her colleagues against unraveling the commodity coalition behind the farm bill.

“We forget that this is much bigger than a sugar program. It’s much bigger than any one single commodity,” said the North Dakota freshman, who hails from a state that is a major producer of sugar beets. “My concern is when you single out one commodity, whether it’s soybeans, corn or sugar or tobacco or rice, when you single out one commodity, you threaten the effectiveness of the overall farm bill.”

In other words, there’s a logroll among senators from subsidized states. My guess is that if you ran a logit model of votes on the sugar amendment, both sugar production and production of other subsidized commodities would enter the equation negatively. I wonder whether ideology or partisanship would factor in. I count 20 GOP “nays” (out of 45), meaning that a little over 60% of Democrats voted nay. And will Tea Party activists hold people like Rubio to account? I’m not holding my breath.

My last intemperate rant against agricultural subsidies here.

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