Coburn vs Norquist on Ethanol Subsidies: Point Coburn
In a recent blog post I wrote for the Monthly, I examined the on going battle between anti-tax fanatic Grover Norquist and Republican Senator Tom Coburn:
Coburn calls Norquist “the boogeyman” and repeatedly attacks him for refusing to even consider a grand bargain. The junior senator concludes the piece saying, “The majority of Democrats and Republicans understand the severity of our economic challenges. They know they have to put everything on the table and make hard choices. Legislators who would rather foster political boogeymen only delay those critical reforms.”
My article was in response to an Coburn’s op-ed denouncing Norquist’s pledge. Well, Norquist wasn’t going to just let that go. He struck back later. The Hill has the story:
Norquist told The Hill that the piece is filed with “lies” and said that Coburn is violating, and trying to get colleagues to violate, a pledge they made to voters.
He said Coburn is wrong to target him, a mere advocate, and should instead acknowledge to his constituents that he is betraying them.
Okay, so that’s relatively normal fighting between a politician and a leading lobbyist. What intrigued me more is the bill that Coburn specifically pointed out in his op-ed:
Consider the evidence: I recently proposed amendments to end tax earmarks for movie producers and the ethanol industry. Mr. Norquist charged that those measures would be tax hikes unless paired with dollar-for-dollar rate reductions. And yet all but six of the 41 Senate Republicans who had signed his pledge voted for my amendments.
And Norquist of course shot back against that too in The Hill‘s article:
He said that Coburn lied when he stated in the Timespiece that all but six of the 41 Senate Republicans violated the pledge when they supported an amendment ending an ethanol tax break last year that did not have a corresponding tax reduction.
Norquist said that senators had voted for it under the assumption it was tied to another bill, offered by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), that would have ended the estate tax.
This is a pretty important point. If 35 Republican senators were willing to break the pledge as Coburn says, it means the pledge is meaningless (at least in the Senate). Even more, it means Norquist has lost all control over Senate Republicans. Now, I know this battle has lasted for quite a while and the amendments that Coburn and Norquist are referring to are from a year ago, but it’s still worth taking a look at:
The amendment Coburn is referring to is Amendment 436 as part of the Economic Development Revitalization Act of 2011. Instead of holding a vote on the amendment, Coburn filed a cloture motion it to end debate, meaning he needed a 60 vote threshold for it to pass. It didn’t come close, falling short 40 to 59 but, 34 Republicans sided with Coburn on that vote. Here are the 40 Senators who sided with Coburn:
The ones in bold have signed Norquist’s pledge. Now, I only count 31 senators who signed the pledge and voted for Coburn’s amendment, but that’s still more than 3/4 of the 40 Republican senators who have signed it. But would they only vote for it if it was paired with Demint’s amendment?
Well, Norquist is referring to a proposed amendment by Senator Jim Demint on the same bill that would have both eliminated the ethanol subsidies and ended the estate tax. However, the entire bill failed a cloture vote before the amendment came up to vote. Would Republicans have been in favor of that amendment? Almost certainly. It included ending the ethanol subsidies, which many Republicans had already voted for in Coburn’s amendment, and ending the estate tax, which nearly all Republicans support.
Here’s the thing: Demint introduced his amendment the day before the vote on Coburn’s amendment. As Norquist says it, Republicans would only vote for an amendment to end ethanol subsidies if it was paired with a proposal to end the death tax. Well, Demint proposed that exact amendment. And yet, still 34 Republicans (and 31 who had signed the pledge) voted for Coburn’s amendment, which was entirely separate from Demint’s. The two did not go hand in hand – Demint’s actually included everything in Coburn’s and added the death of the estate tax. There was no reason for those Republicans to vote for Coburn’s amendment and take heat from Norquist’s group if they were just going to vote for Demint’s. So, they must have been okay with Coburn’s amendment passing even without the end of the estate tax.