Could ethanol subsidies affect Rick Perry's presidential bid?

Presidential candidates are expected to have a position on the subsidies provided in the production of corn-based ethanol. With 41 percent of America's corn crop going into making the oil-alternative, it's an issue that's very important to both farmers and the biofuel industry. However, with many Republican voters deeply concerned about government spending, farm subsidies can be a tough sell these days and finding the right position isn't easy. Coming out against these subsidies was considered a major factor in John McCain losing Iowa, both during the caucuses and the general election in 2008.

Among the GOP candidates for the 2012 presidential run, positions on ethanol are mixed. Tim Pawlenty, who abandoned the race after failing to garner votes and attention at the recent straw poll in Ames, Iowa, began his campaign with a speech in which he condemned ethanol subsidies. Ron Paul and Rick Santorum have also spoken up against continued payments for corn-based ethanol. On the other hand, Newt Gingrich and perceived front runner Mitt Romney (who, along with Mike Huckabee, bested McCain in the 2008 caucuses) have been subsidy supporters. Conservative favorite Michele Bachmann has a somewhat mixed record, having voted for requiring expanded use of ethanol, but delivering a mixed message when it comes to support for subsidies.

Which brings us to freshly minted presidential candidate Rick Perry. The Texas Governor has a history of favoring ethanol subsidies, as well as other farm subsidies, while serving as the state agriculture commissioner. According to a Statesman article, Perry spoke up in favor of EPA regulations requiring ethanol and praised subsidies, saying that he was "exited" about the potential of corn-based ethanol, adding, "I strongly support its increased use and production in the Lone Star State." However, that comment was made over a decade ago and Perry's position changed after he became governor. In 2007 he tried to get a waiver from the EPA that would have let Texas fuel be formulated without ethanol. He's spoken out against corn-based ethanol since then, and has favored ethanol made from waste biomass.

The perception, at this point in the race, is that Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann are sparing for the most conservative voters among Republicans, so it will be interesting to see how each of them shapes their position to capture caucus votes in corn-friendly Iowa without offending conservative elsewhere who have a low opinion of subsidies. The $15 billion the government pays out each year in farm subsidies is a long way from being the largest factor in the national debt, but that is certainly not a small number.

Of course, there is one important detail that Perry and Bachmann share: both of them have actually received farm subsidies. The dairy farm owned by Bachmann's family has pulled in $260,000 in subsidies. Rick Perry's take was a much smaller $9,624, paid out to not farm on his land. So, in this case the words and deeds don't exactly match up.

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