Those eyeing the Republican nomination for president in 2012 differ on whether to phase out the $5 billion spent a year on ethanol subsidies — something that could risk alienating Iowa voters.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is testing the long-held notion that presidential candidates who oppose ethanol subsidies will be trounced in the corn-rich Iowa caucuses.
“The truth about federal energy subsidies, including federal subsidies for ethanol, is that they have to be phased out,” Pawlenty said Monday at his formal campaign announcement in Des Moines. “We need to do it gradually. We need to do it fairly.”
But two of his rivals have a history of supporting them. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was for ethanol subsidies when he ran for president in 2008. And Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, is a supporter.
“Given the choice Gingrich would much rather have money going to Iowa farmers and the people who work to produce bio-fuels here in the United States than to unstable regimes in the Middle East including those who seek to destroy us,” Gingrich spokesman Rick Tyler said.
Others who say they are for doing away with subsidies include former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, whose campaign said he supports phasing out the 45 cents per gallon ethanol blender’s credit over the next five years.
“Over these 5 years, Senator Santorum believes we should then invest 4.5 cents of that annual reduction in infrastructure for flex fueling stations to expand market access for biofuels,” his spokeswoman, Virginia Davis, said.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul has long been an opponent of ethanol subsidies.
“We are sure to see increased calls from political opportunists for eliminating ethanol subsidies, but Dr. Paul was against ethanol subsidies before it became politically advantageous,” said Gary Howard, a spokesman for Paul.
Another libertarian-minded Republican candidate for president, Gary Johnson, is against “unnecessary farm subsidies,” according to his website.
Representatives for former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and businessman Herman Cain did not respond to requests for comment.