WASHINGTON — Two days after rejecting Sen. Tom Coburn's move to kill ethanol subsidies, the Senate reversed course Thursday and overwhelmingly approved the legislation he authored with a California Democrat.
Democrats had objected to Coburn's aggressive move to force a vote on Tuesday but proved Thursday they agreed with his core arguments that taxpayers shouldn't spend an estimated $6 billion a year to subsidize ethanol production.
The vote on Thursday was 73-27 for the amendment, written by Coburn, R-Muskogee, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, a longtime foe of corn-based ethanol, was one of 33 Republicans voting for the amendment; 38 Democrats and two independents also supported it.
In a statement after the vote, Coburn made reference to the debate among conservatives about whether his amendment was a tax increase, because it would effectively result in more revenue for the government.
Since serving on the president's deficit commission last year, Coburn has supported paring back numerous tax breaks to help balance the budget.
Coburn said Thursday's vote “was a major victory for taxpayers and a positive step toward a serious deficit reduction agreement, which is our only hope of averting a debt crisis.
“An overwhelming bipartisan majority of senators embraced pro-growth tax reform while rejecting the parochial politics that so often paralyze the Senate. The best way to reduce our crushing $14.3 trillion debt is by reducing wasteful spending a billion dollars at a time.”
The amendment would kill the 45-cents-per-gallon tax credit for blending ethanol with gasoline and the 54-cents-per-gallon tariff on imported ethanol. The Senate vote was largely symbolic because tax-related measures must start in the House, but it was a strong signal about where lawmakers stand on the issue.
Feinstein and other senators arguing for the amendment Thursday said the demand for corn for ethanol was driving up prices of food and livestock feed and that most of the tax money went to major oil companies with refineries.
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