This afternoon, the Senate overwhelmingly voted to end $6 billion in subsidies for ethanol, with 34 Republicans joining the 73-27 majority to end tax breaks and protective tariffs for the corn-based fuel industry. The effort was led by Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Tom Coburn (R-OK), with strong support from members of both parties.
But despite usually strong bipartisan backing, not everyone is happy. Beyond to the expected dismay of the ethanol industry and corn state senators, one powerful man in Washington is worried his grip on GOP lawmakers is slipping. As the Hill reports:
As such, the vote could also represent a setback for influential conservative Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), who said a vote for the plan would violate the anti-tax pledge most Republicans have signed unless paired with a separate tax-cutting amendment.
Nealy every Republican lawmaker in Washington has signed Norquist’s anti-tax pledge, in which they vowed to never raise taxes, unless offset by other tax cuts. But Feinstein’s bill ends ethanol’s tax breaks without cutting taxes elsewhere, so Norquist dubbed it a “tax increase.”
And Norquist is livid. In an interview with the National Review, the influential lobbyist slammed Coburn, with whom he’s publicly feuded for some time, for taking Republicans’ tax hike “virginity”:
Norquist [said the vote was] essentially a gateway drug that would inevitably lead to additional [tax] increases down the road. “He said, ‘Ha ha, popped your cherry, lost your virginity. Now give me $2 trillion in tax increases,’” Norquist says. “As soon as they voted, he turned around and called them sluts. Guys like that didn’t get second dates in high school.”
Coburn had his own harsh words for Norquist, saying the vote was a clear rebuke of the ATR head:
“That’s 34 Republicans who are willing to say this is more important than a signed pledge to ATR,” he told reporters after the vote. “I think you all think [Norquist] has a whole lot more hold than I think he has.” Then, in a follow up statement, he added: “Taxpayers should be encouraged that Republican senators overwhelmingly rejected the ludicrous argument that eliminating tax earmarks is a tax increase.”
Indeed, even Coburn — one of Congress’ most conservative members — and some of his colleagues realize that the die-hard refusal to ever raise taxes espoused by Norquist and many Tea Party activistic is no way to govern. But now that Republican senators have voted to end ethanol subsidies, will they do the same for subsidies to the oil industry?