Philip Klein notes an important pledge Tim Pawlenty made in his presidential campaign announcement in Des Moines, Iowa yesterday. Federal ethanol subsidies "have to be phased out," Pawlenty said, countering much of the the agricultural community in Iowa, including many conservative Republicans in the state. Klein calls the move a "net gain" for the former governor of Minnesota:
Most presidential announcements produce no news, but Pawlenty's call for ending ethanol subsidies likely will draw headlines, and not just any headlines, but headlines that coincide with the theme of his campaign -- that he'll tell the truth. And he added that, "Tomorrow, I'm going to Florida to tell both young people and seniors the truth that our entitlement programs are on an unsustainable path and that inaction is no longer an option."
And while Pawlenty will draw kudos for coming out against ethanol subsidies, it's unlikely that in this current environment, any of his Republican opponents will attack him on it, because if they do, it will only make Pawlenty look better and them look bad to conservative voters outside of Iowa.
Pawlenty was much more favorably inclined toward ethanol subsidies as Minnesota governor. Along with signing some pro-ethanol subsidy legislation into law as governor, in 2009 Pawlenty joined with other Midwestern governors in signing a letter of support for the EPA's change in the "blend wall" (the amount of ethanol allowed to be blended with traditional gasoline) from 10 percent to 15 percent.
It remains to be seen whether other Republican presidential candidates follow Pawlenty's lead and come out against ethanol subsidies. In January, the Wall Street Journal editorial board laid into Newt Gingrich for his "pious...tribute" to the ethanol lobby at the Renewable Fuels Association summit. And, according to campaign spokesman Rick Tyler, Gingrich still supports these subsidies, which he has since first supporting legislation that President Ronald Reagan signed into law. "Given the choice," Tyler wrote in an email, "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."
And as Michael Scherer points out, several other possible Republican candidates have supported subsidies in the past. Mitt Romney, for instance, wrote in his book No Apology that he supports ethanol subsidies. His campaign declined to comment on whether he stands by that position.