Congressional gridlock isn’t always bad. Sometimes doing nothing yields something.
So it was that when the nation’s beleaguered senators and representatives left the Beltway for the holidays, a $6 billion subsidy for ethanol production that had been in place for three decades expired Jan. 1.
See how easy it can be to cut the federal budget?
But this one was harder than it looked. It took many years for nothing to yield something.
For 30 years, a powerful corn lobby and the prominent Iowa presidential caucus combined to create an entire generation of politicians in both major political parties who defended outdated subsidies originally created to help an upstart industry. The idea was that corn-based ethanol mixed with gasoline theoretically could reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil.
The rise of the Tea Party and its distaste for government spending reduced the support within Republican circles for ethanol subsidies. That’s particularly so because the market already is tilted toward the corn growers by state and federal mandates that require gasoline to be mixed with various percentages of ethanol.
And liberal Democrats, too, have grown uneasy with the subsidies, in part because of environmental concerns. Other biofuels hold much more promise, and corn-based ethanol subsidies have raised food prices worldwide.
The lesson in this harmonic convergence of tea partyers and Occupy Wall Street, where the extreme elements of both parties conspired successfully against the middle, is that all corporate subsidies should have a beginning and an end.
Ethanol will survive. Our republic, too, will make it through these divided times. If the left and right can agree to let the ethanol subsidy expire, there is hope.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Jan. 19)