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Enter Sen. Jim DeMint. The conservative South Carolina Republican strongly endorsed Coburn’s amendment Friday and announced he will offer a separate amendment to eliminate ethanol mandates as well as the estate tax. Norquist’s group gave its blessing for pledge-signers to back Coburn’s amendment, so long as they also vote for DeMint’s. But that’s problematic — there’s no guarantee DeMint’s amendment will receive a vote, and it’s very likely to fail even if it does.
According to the group, a vote for a final bill that includes the Coburn amendment, but not the DeMint amendment, would still violate the pledge.
Norquist’s ploy could have the effect of muddying the water for the Tuesday vote. But the momentum had clearly swung to Coburn in recent days. Coburn has marshaled strong backing from conservatives, including the Club for Growth, which called the ethanol subsidy “an abomination” and announced Friday that it will log the vote on its influential annual scorecard. Taxpayers for Common Sense also issued a report arguing the ethanol industry should finally stand on its own.
Of course, an initial victory doesn’t mean Coburn will succeed in killing the credits. The underlying bill may collapse. Even if it gets to the House, it faces an uncertain path to President Barack Obama’s desk. And it’s not clear if Obama would sign it, given the importance of Corn Belt states in the 2012 elections.
But a strong vote for Coburn would be a big setback to the ethanol industry’s attempt to extend at least some of the 45-cents-per-gallon tax credit beyond the end of this year.
The industry, which has been blanketing Capitol Hill with advertisements touting the benefits of the homegrown fuel, immediately accused Coburn of an “ambush” that would, if successful, help the likes of Libya and Venezuela by increasing the United States’ reliance on foreign oil.
Jill Kozeny, a spokeswoman for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the leading defender of ethanol, ripped the amendment as “out of touch” — a job killer that would raise gas prices during a tough economy when drivers are already getting pinched at the pump.
Other ethanol backers were preparing amendments that would give Senators an alternative to support.
Opponents — such as meat producers hoping for cheaper feed prices — likewise ramped up their efforts to kill the subsidies once and for all. In addition to the cost to taxpayers, they argue, ethanol drives up the cost of food and lowers gas mileage.