ByÂ Stephen Dinan-The Washington Times
TheÂ Senate voted Tuesday to preserve billions of dollars in government subsidies for ethanol in a vote that showed senators are not yet ready to undo the corporate handouts that have proliferated throughout the tax code in recent decades.
ButÂ Senate Democrats said they will offer lawmakers another chance to vote again by the end of this month, and without some procedural hurdles that ensnared Tuesdayâ€™s vote the anti-subsidy crowd could yet win.
â€œIf it werenâ€™t for process, weâ€™d have 60 votes. Thatâ€™s my belief,â€ saidÂ Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who wants to end nearly $6 billion a year in ethanol aid. But she voted against that stance on Tuesday so as not to undercut her partyâ€™s leadership, which is trying to keep a tight grip on action on theÂ Senate floor.
The vote was 59-40 to preserve the tax credit of 45 cents for every gallon of ethanol that is blended into gasoline.
Renewable fuel advocates and Corn Belt senators hailed the vote, saying it preserves – at least for now – federal aid for a homegrown supply of energy.
â€œWe shouldnâ€™t be fighting each other over domestic energy sources,â€ saidÂ Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican. â€œWe should be fightingOPEC and the foreign dictators and oil sheiks who have a hold over Americaâ€™s economy and national security.â€
The vote was the first in what is expected to be a growing series of skirmishes over corporate aid in the tax code.
Ethanol has proved to be a popular target for free-market conservatives because the government already mandates that a certain level of renewable fuels be blended with gasoline, which provides a ready-made market for ethanol and, the conservatives argue, makes the extra subsidy unnecessary.
But ethanol is far from the only target.
In the House, Republicans are fighting a behind-the-scenes battle over a bill offering subsidies for filling stations and truck and car owners who switch to natural gas. Nearly 200 House members have signed on as co-sponsors, and chief backers say it is a way to promote an abundant American energy supply, boosting jobs along the way.
Opposition, though, is growing, with free-market advocates cajoling a handful of lawmakers to withdraw their support from the bill. One group, Americans for Prosperity, is running radio ads charging the billâ€™s supporters with trying to pick winners and losers, which the group says amounts to caving on conservative principles.
Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican and author of Tuesdayâ€™s proposal to end the ethanol subsidy, said the failed vote reminded him of the first time he tried to end spending on the so-called â€œBridge to Nowhereâ€ in Alaska, which became the poster project for runaway earmark spending.
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