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Mikulski, Cardin oppose ethanol proposal

The state's two Democratic senators joined with a majority of their party on Tuesday to block a symbolic effort to end federal ethanol tax subsidies, even though both lawmakers said they ultimately support doing away with the controversial tax credits.

Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin said they opposed the measure on procedural grounds Tuesday but expressed support for the underlying policy. Democratic leaders were upset by the way the proposal, offered by Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, was brought to the floor.

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The measure failed on a 40-59 vote, falling far short of the 60 votes needed to advance.

But although the Coburn version of the legislation did not pass, the debate Tuesday suggested that there is bipartisan support in the Senate for limiting the ethanol breaks. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Senate will take up another version of the measure in a matter of days.

"At a time when high gas and corn prices are hurting many people and businesses in Delaware and Maryland, particularly within our agriculture communities, and America is facing a massive federal deficit and debt, ending the subsidy for corn-based ethanol is long overdue," read a joint statement by Mikulski, Cardin and Delaware's Democratic senators, Tom Carper and Chris Coons.

"We voted against the Coburn amendment today because of the manner this issue was brought to the Senate floor," the statement read. "We have been assured by the Democratic leadership that the Senate will vote on this issue later this week, allowing us to consider and debate the substance of this important policy decision."

The subsidies, and the debate over their repeal, have prompted an intense federal lobbying campaign. The credits go to oil companies and others who blend ethanol into gasoline. The credits cost about $6 billion annually.

Coburn raised the ire of his Democratic colleagues by swapping out the text of a placeholder amendment he had pending on the floor, replacing it unexpectedly with the tax credit repeal.

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