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By Jacob Geiger June 22, 2011

George Allen changes stance again on ethanol subsidies

Republican George Allen made headlines in 2005 when he voted for a bill in the U.S. Senate that helped the ethanol industry by mandating greater use of the biofuel in the production of gas.

The story was first reported in the Des Moines Register, which noted that Allen "used to be a reliable vote against expanding the ethanol industry."

There were two reasons why Iowa’s largest newspaper was interested in the changed position of the Virginia senator.

The first concerned the nature of ethanol, a type of alcohol that can be combined with gasoline and burned in engines. Demand for ethanol drives up demand for corn, which is used to produce the alcohol. And no state produces more corn than Iowa.

The second reason had to do with politics. Iowa is home to caucuses that make it the first state to weigh in on whom the Democrats and Republicans should nominate for president.

And back then, Allen, was giving plenty of thought to a White House bid. The Register wondered whether Allen’s change on ethanol might "have anything to do with the possibility that he may enter the Iowa caucuses and run for president in 2008?"

At the time, an Allen spokesman told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the senator’s position had "evolved with technology" which had "made it more practical, more efficient and more affordable to produce biofuels."

Some were skeptical of Allen’s conversion. "If you think presidential ambition has nothing to do with it, I’ve got some nice beachfront property in Des Moines to sell you," quipped Mark Rozell, a political scientist at George Mason University.

Allen made several trips to Iowa in 2006 -- as well as to other key presidential primary states, including New Hampshire. But his national ambitions tumbled later that year when Allen was upset in his reelection bid for the Senate by Democrat Jim Webb.

Now, let’s fast forward to 2011. Allen is campaigning hard to regain his old Senate seat next year and seeking to establish his credentials as a fiscal conservative. Although Allen is the favorite to win the GOP nomination, there’s a feisty group of other Republican candidates nipping at his heels.

With the United States having maxed out its $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, Congress faces an Aug. 2 deadline to reach a deal that cuts spending and raises the borrowing limit on Uncle Sam’s credit card. And ethanol is a small part of that debate.

The Senate this month passed a measure that would end a 45-cent per gallon tax credit to U.S. ethanol refiners and a 54-cent per gallon tariff on imported ethanol. The measure -- pushed by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.-- would save the U.S. about $6 billion a year.

Allen applauded the legislation, which still faces a difficult route through Congress.

"I have long maintained our biofuel mandates have become unrealistic and drive up the cost of our food and feed," Allen wrote in a June 14 campaign blog. "I commend Senator Coburn’s amendment to end the tax breaks and subsidies for ethanol."

Bill Riggs, Allen’s campaign press secretary, said the candidate stopped supporting ethanol subsidies when Congress passed a 2007 mandate for another dramatic increase in production of the biofuel -- from a future goal 8 billion gallons a year to a new objective of 36 billion gallons annually.  At that level, Riggs said, ethanol could consume about one-third of the U.S. corn crop.

Riggs said Allen’s view in 2005 was that supporting emerging ethanol technology would be a relatively small mandate. But the 2007 bill pushed food and feed prices higher, he said, and was inconsistent with the legislation Allen had supported two years earlier.

Allen’s new position caught the attention of one of his opponents for the GOP nomination, Tea Party activist Jamie Radtke. She issued a news release headlined, "George Allen Flip-Flops on Ethanol."

The candidate has his reasons for changing his position, but everyone agrees a change occurred. Full Flop! 

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Our Sources

George Allen for U.S. Senate, Senate fails to halt ethanol tax breaks, June 14, 2011.

The Washington Post, Senate approves cut in ethanol subsidies, votes for Feinstein amendment, June 16, 2011.

The Washington Post, Allen’s position on ethanol has changed -- again, June 20, 2011.

The Associated Press, Senators debate future of support for ethanol, June 19, 2005.

The Daily Press, Sen. Allen, presidential possibility, now endorses more ethanol use, June 19, 2005.

Richmond Times-Dispatch, A campaign conversion for Allen? - A switch on ethanol implies an attempt to court voters in Iowa, Democrats allege, May 30, 2005.

Des Moines Register, 2008 candidacies may influence vote, May 25, 2005.

Interview with Bill Riggs, press secretary, George Allen for Senate, June 21, 2011. 

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