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Since then though, free-market groups have fought back, arguing the government shouldn’t pick one energy supply over another. Last week, Mr. Phillips‘ group, Americans for Prosperity, began running ads in a handful of congressional Republicans’ districts, charging that they are caving on core principles.

“I thought they were elected to stop all these special handouts,” one woman says in the commercial running in Rep. Mike Kelly’s Pennsylvania district.

On Monday, Mr. Kelly said he has reconsidered and is withdrawing his sponsorship, joining four other Republicans who have pulled their names.

“The American people are increasingly calling for a more fair and simplified tax code,” Mr. Kelly said. “While H.R. 1380 works to support the development of natural gas, a cause I wholeheartedly believe in, I dont want to add to an already complex tax code.”

Mr. Sullivan, the bill’s sponsor, said he’s the only one offering a proactive solution for American energy production.

“You can’t claim to be for energy security while leading the opposition to the plan that achieves it,” said his spokesman, Vaughn Jennings. “By offering no energy plan of their own, opponents are supporting a status quo that puts OPEC dictators ahead of American taxpayers.”

The fact that both fights are over energy is not surprising. With gasoline prices averaging near $4 a gallon, lawmakers are divided on whether more government aid helps consumers or helps energy businesses.

But for the Republicans, the battle is over competing principles, and the ethanol fight in particular pits some of the conservative movement’s biggest players against each other.

On one side is Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, who runs the group’s influential lower-taxes pledge, and who said eliminating the ethanol tax credit would violate that. He’s been sparring with Mr. Coburn for months, saying that if taxes are raised in one area, they must be lowered somewhere else.

“This is all about raising taxes. This is nothing about corporate welfare and it’s nothing about ethanol,” he said. “If it’s about ethanol, then what Coburn would do is introduce a bill to remove the ethanol mandate. His bill doesn’t do that.”

On the other side is the Club for Growth, whose president, former Rep. Chris Chocola, said when they are picking which candidates to back, one key question is whether they will oppose ethanol subsidies.

“How can we ask every candidate, and grade them on their answer, and when it finally comes up for a vote, not be for it? We view this as an elimination of a market-distorting subsidy,” he said.

Both groups, though, agreed with another amendment that Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, hopes to piggyback onto Mr. Coburn’s legislation. It would eliminate the renewable fuels mandate, as well as cut the estate tax.