- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The 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.

But 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 Tuesday’s vote the anti-subsidy crowd could yet win.

“If it weren’t for process, we’d have 60 votes. That’s my belief,” said 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 party’s leadership, which is trying to keep a tight grip on action on the 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.

“We shouldn’t be fighting each other over domestic energy sources,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican. “We should be fighting OPEC and the foreign dictators and oil sheiks who have a hold over America’s economy and national security.”

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 bill’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 Tuesday’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 “Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska, which became the poster project for runaway earmark spending.

That first vote in October 2005 on the bridge failed, 82-15, but the project was eventually canceled and as of this year, Congress has imposed a ban on all earmarks in spending bills.

Mr. Coburn forced a vote on his ethanol amendment this week by using parliamentary tactics akin to heading off a filibuster. Democrats, who control the chamber, saw that as a challenge to their authority to run the floor, and after a confab in the Senate well on Tuesday most of them agreed to vote against Mr. Coburn’s effort.

Mr. Coburn said that showed misplaced loyalty.

“Instead of protecting taxpayers by reducing our deficit and lowering food prices, many senators chose to protect the desire of Senate leaders to avoid tough issues,” he said. “Taxpayers obviously need to give the Senate another refresher course on who runs government.”

His proposal won the support of 34 Republicans and six members of the Democratic caucus. Thirteen Republicans, mostly from Corn Belt states, joined the rest of the Democrats in opposition.

During the vote, Mr. Grassley stood in the well of the Senate and glared - in a not altogether joking manner - at Republican senators who voted for the amendment.

Meanwhile, Democrats held a confab to discuss their strategy.

Mrs. Feinstein said she has been promised another vote by June 24 on another proposal to try to limit ethanol subsidies.

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