Blogger sums up Republican candidates’ positions on ethanol/energy subsidies

(“2012ers still running on ethanol” published on the weblog, Free Republic)

…Mitt Romney still supports ethanol subsidies. So do Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, sort of. And the Republicans still oppose President Barack Obama’s idea of getting rid of subsidies for the oil industry.

The focus on the campaign trail thus far has been on continued federal help for corn-based ethanol – understandable as it remains an important commodity in Iowa, home to the first caucus and official test at the ballot box in the Republican primary.

“It becomes kind of a marker for a broader assessment of somebody’s view of the type of role governments should play,” said Michael Franc, vice president for government studies at the Heritage Foundation. “Every state has its version of ethanol.”

Several of the Republican candidates have told crowds in the Hawkeye State that they want federal help for ethanol to continue – at least to a certain degree – although ex-Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman has said he won’t compete in Iowa as he doesn’t believe in “subsidies that prop up corn, soybeans and ethanol.”

Former Massachusetts Gov. Romney – who finished a disappointing second to Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in Iowa in 2008 – last week reiterated the support he showed for ethanol in that earlier campaign. “I support the subsidy of ethanol. I believe ethanol is an important part of our energy solution in this country,” Romney said.

Pawlenty garnered much attention calling for a gradual scaling back of federal help for ethanol at the official kick off of his campaign for the White House last month.

“We need to phase out subsidies across all sources of energy and all industries, including ethanol,” the former Minnesota governor said. “We simply can’t afford them anymore.” He added: “We need to do it gradually. We need to do it fairly. But we need to do it.”

Some conservatives praised Pawlenty for boldly shifting from policies he implemented to help the ethanol industry as a farm-state governor.

But Pawlenty’s new position isn’t that radical a shift – it’s lockstep with that of an industry that recognizes it needs to stay ahead of more aggressive attempts to repeal federal incentives. Ethanol backers are trying to piece together their own proposal to wean off of a 45-cent per-barrel blender tax credit for ethanol and move on to get federal help for setting up flex-fuel gas pumps and other infrastructure to increase market availability.

Former House Speaker Gingrich has said he supported ethanol subsidies as early as 1984 and says he would rather have money going to farmers and others in the United States that produce biofuels than to unstable regimes in the Middle East.

Gingrich – who earlier this year reportedly chided “big city” critics of ethanol – said a federal mandate allowing all cars to be flex-fueled vehicles could supplant the per-barrel blender tax credit.

Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania, wants to phase-down the blender tax credit over five years and then help provide infrastructure for flex- fueling stations.

Huntsman nebulously noted in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last Wednesday about the “opportunity to reduce, reform and in some cases end government programs – including some popular but unaffordable subsidies for agriculture and energy – in order to save the trillions, not billions, necessary to make possible a future as bright as our past.”

Huntsman’s refusal to compete in Iowa, which he confirmed to ABC News, is reminiscent of 2008 GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, who is a strong critic of ethanol subsidies and essentially ignored the Iowa caucus in 2008. McCain finished fourth in the caucus that year.

GOP energy strategist Mike McKenna – a vocal opponent of energy subsidies – said some of the leading candidates are “kind of playing footsie with the issue.”

But former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin – who has not announced plans to make a White House run in 2012 – may have more closely laid out the tea party marker. Responding to a question about ethanol, she told reporters last Tuesday that “all of our energy subsidies need to be relooked at today and eliminated.”

Our Take:
This run down is helpful, if you want to communicate your views with particular candidates or sort among their positions.

We find the point that “every state has its version of ethanol” to be even more meaningful than the Heritage Foundation scholar perhaps intended. While Franc might have simply meant that each place has its sacred cows or its acid test for candidates, understanding what is important to the other is the most fundamental basis for politics.

One method for getting beyond the negative focus on ethanol subsidies is to try to understand the vital interests of other regions of the country and to build common cause on that basis. Call it horse trading or log rolling or just politics, but communicating the idea that ethanol is a huge job builder and economic development mechanism for the Farm Belt we can inquire of others what they feel can build their regional economies most forcefully and work together to support economic development broadly, and so win support for this vital interest of ours.

To view the full weblog posting, or to respond, go to


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