DANA POINT, Calif. — Battling crony capitalism and corporate welfare has been a central theme of this weekend's gathering.* In that vein, Mike Allen of Politico asked Marco Rubio at Sunday's lunch, commented on Rubio's votes against a federal backstop for terrorism risk insurance and the Export-Import Bank, and then noted that Rubio made one exception to his opposition to crony capitalism. Rubio instantly knew what Allen was talking about: the federal sugar program.
Rubio has consistently voted for and defended the federal sugar program, which drives U.S. sugar prices higher by keeping out foreign sugar and provides federal loans to guarantee those high prices.
Rubio said, "I'm ready to get rid of the loan program for sugar, as long as the countries that export sugar into the U.S. get rid of theirs as well, and here's why: Otherwise, Brazil will wipe out our agriculture and it's not just sugar."
"I'm prepared to say, absolutely, we should change the law so that as soon as countries get rid of theirs, we get rid of ours, and then there will be a free market for being able to sell food. Otherwise these other countries will capture the market share, our agricultural capacity will be developed into real estate, you know, housing and so forth, and then we lose the capacity to produce our own food, at which point we're at the mercy of a foreign country for food security."
And if you think energy security is problematic, food security would certainly undermine our ability moving forward as a nation.
This answer seems faulty in many ways:
First, it perfectly echoes the wrong-headed defenses of the Export-Import Bank. Ex-Im supporter Tony Fratto made that very point on Twitter.
Economically, Rubio has no ground on which to stand: Just because other countries are hurting themselves through protectionist government distortions doesn't mean we should. Other countries' distortions don't make our distortions less destructive.
That's probably why Rubio tries to stand on national security grounds. But even there, it's tough to see his argument. First, there's an economic flaw in it: He presumes that if Brazil and the U.S. and everyone else dropped sugar subsidies, that a U.S. sugar industry would continue to exist. I'm not sure that's true. I suspect that absent U.S. sugar subsidies, regardless of what the rest of the world did, it would be uneconomical to farm sugar in the Everglades.
His support of the sugar program undermines Rubio's free-enterprise, anti-corporate-welfare position especially because the primary beneficiaries of the program are the Fanjuls, who were early fundraisers and donors for Rubio in his 2010 Senate race.
This issue may plague him in the GOP primaries, and especially among the GOP donors in the Kochs' network, who are increasingly keyed in on battling corporate welfare.
*DISCLOSURE: I am at this conference in part because I gave a talk on cronyism and corporate welfare here. The organizers are covering my travel and lodging.