Ethanol subsidies find GOP foes

Source: Robynn Tysver • World Herald  • Posted: Wednesday, November 2, 2011

PELLA, Iowa — The political power of ethanol appears to have waned a little in Iowa if this year’s Republican presidential field is any indication.

Four out of the five candidates who attended a manufacturing forum Tuesday in Pella say it is time to phase out subsidies for the fuel, saying the federal government should not be in the business of supporting one energy source over another.

“I do not believe the bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., ought to be picking winners and losers in the energy sector,” said Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul also said they oppose ethanol subsidies. Only Newt Gingrich backed federal support for ethanol, noting that he voted for the subsidies in Congress in 1984.

“We decided it was better for money to go to Iowa than to Iran, better for money to go to South Dakota than to Saudi Arabia. I still believe that,” Gingrich said.

The five attended a forum hosted by the National Association of Manufacturers. Absent were the GOP’s top two current front-runners: Mitt Romney and Herman Cain. (Romney supports ethanol subsidies, while Cain opposes them.)

Ethanol is a politically sensitive issue in Iowa, home to the nation’s first presidential test and thousands of farmers who produce the corn that feeds ethanol plants. Iowa is the nation’s No. 1 ethanol producer.

In past years, a candidate’s opposition to ethanol subsidies was seen as a political hurdle to winning in Iowa.

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona faced stiff criticism in 2008 over his opposition to the subsidies. McCain, who also did not play well within Iowa’s social conservative circles, made only a token effort in the caucuses that year. This year, more candidates are coming out against the subsidies.

One reason may be the political climate and a focus on the federal deficit. Each of the GOP candidates is trying to portray himself or herself as a budget cutter, especially to members of the Tea Party movement, said Dennis Goldford, a political scientist at Drake University.

“It’s their attempt to establish their credibility with Tea Party types who think any federal spending is at least wasteful, if not unconstitutional,” he said.

The candidates at the manufacturers’ forum said they would focus on creating jobs by cutting taxes, reducing government regulation and repealing President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Perry said a lot of American jobs could be created quickly if the federal government were more supportive of oil drilling and coal mining. He said one of his first acts in office would be to sign an executive order opening up more federal land in the West to oil exploration.

Santorum said he would repeal all federal regulations Obama enacted that cost businesses more than $100,000 to implement. The business climate in this country would improve almost immediately with a Republican in the White House, the former Pennsylvania senator said.

Bachmann called for a “flatter, fairer” tax code. “What I want to do is simplify the (tax) code in every way,” the Minnesota congresswoman said.

Paul, a Texas congressman, called for the resignation of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, arguing that his monetary policies have hurt the U.S. economy and weakened the dollar.

Gingrich, House speaker during the Clinton administration, called for a job-training program that would require out-of-work Americans to undergo new training in exchange for benefits.

He also had the harshest words for Obama, calling him a “left-wing radical who believes in class warfare.”