Idaho Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo on Tuesday tried to keep alive an effort to end $6 billion in subsidies for ethanol used in fuel, but the effort died on a procedural vote. Risch is a co-sponsor on other efforts to end the ethanol tax credit, while Crapo's spokesman said the state's senior senator hasn't completely made up his mind on the issue yet.
Risch and Crapo voted to keep debate open on a plan from Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., to end the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit. More than 30 Republicans as well as five Democrats backed ending the subsidy, well short of the necessary 60 votes. Many of the Republicans who voted against the plan came from states with large farming economies, which benefit from the tax on the fuel made from corn.
“Every time the government gets its hands involved in something, it makes a mess of it, and this is no different,” Risch said to IdahoReporter.com about why he wants to get rid of the ethanol subsidy.
Crapo originally voted for the ethanol subsidy in 2004 and has said ethanol helps Idaho's farmers and lessens America's dependence on foreign oil. Spokesman Lindsay Nothern said Crapo isn't fully behind Coburn's plan and that the vote Tuesday wasn't a final vote on the issue.
“He's supportive of looking at changes,” Nothern said. “I don't know that's he's completely committed to gutting the subsidies.”
Nothern said Crapo is interested in proposals from Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and John Thune of South Dakota to water down or slowly phase out the subsidies. Grassley and Thune voted against Coburn's plan.
President Barack Obama's press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday that the president's energy plan includes developing biofuels including ethanol, and that the White House is in favor of reforming but not repealing the ethanol subsidy.
In addition to the Republican split by some senators in more rural states, Coburn's effort was also criticized by Grover Norquist with the group Americans for Tax Reform, which urges lawmakers to sign a pledge saying they won't raise taxes. All four of Idaho's members of Congress signed onto the tax pledge. Norquist said eliminating the $6 billion tax break amounts to a tax increase, though Risch disagreed.
“Repealing a subsidy is not a tax increase, as far as I'm concerned,” Risch said. “Grover Norquist was the only guy beating his chest on this, saying it was a tax increase.” Risch pointed out that other conservative organizations, including the Heritage Foundation and the Club for Growth, supported Coburn's effort. Risch also said that he generally agrees with Norquist, but not on this particular issue.
Risch said the vote Tuesday is just the beginning, and there are several more efforts in the works in the Senate. “We'll be voting on them again, I'm sure.”
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- One plan to end $6 billion in subsidies failed in the Senate, One plan to end $6 billion in subsidies failed in the Senate