This was a vote on an amendment by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) that would have prohibited federal funds from being used for the construction of ethanol blender pumps, which allow drivers to choose different fuels with varying levels of ethanol at gas stations. This amendment was offered to legislation authorizing federal funding for economic development programs.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) urged support for McCain’s amendment: “My vote today is not a vote against ethanol as a transportation fuel. I strongly support the greater use of alternative transportation fuels and alternative-fuel filling stations in the United States. In certain cases, I have even advocated for government support of these goals. But government support for a source of energy should create a temporary boost, not a long-term federal dependency. It is just as foolish to attempt to build an economy on subsidized energy as it is to build a house on the sand….I have supported broad-based incentives for alternative fuels in the past, but enough is enough, and in the case of ethanol, it is more than enough by far. Affordable energy is basic to a strong economy just as a healthy blood supply is basic to human life, and a long-term handout is no substitute for affordability. I will continue to support reducing our dependency on foreign oil by increasing domestic energy production, increasing the efficiency of our transportation sector, and increasing the diversity of our transportation fuels. But those goals should focus on energy sources that can compete in the free market. Reliance on noncompetitive energy sources will only drag down our economy.”
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) opposed McCain’s amendment: “This assault on America's ethanol industry is both misguided and undeserved. This is truly a homegrown industry built on the investment and labor of many thousands of Americans providing a product that helps us with one of our most pressing national issues--our dependency on imported oil. Yet here we are debating amendments that I think clearly tell the industry: You aren't important, you don't matter, and you don't have the support of the American people. I think that is not only the wrong message but a misguided message to be sending, and I will tell you why. We have been struggling with our dependency on oil for almost 40 years. One of our strategies over that period of time has been to develop and commercialize biofuels….In the past 10 years, biofuels, and particularly ethanol have gotten to the point where they now displace about 10 percent of our gasoline supply. Think about that: 10 percent of our gasoline supply, used basically for transportation, is displaced by biofuels. I think that is a remarkable achievement. No other alternative supply comes close.”
The Senate rejected this amendment by a vote of 41-59. Voting “yea” were 36 Republicans and 5 Democrats. 48 Democrats—including a majority of progressives--and 11 Republicans voted “nay.” As a result, the Senate rejected an amendment that would have prohibited federal funds from being used for the construction of ethanol blender pumps, which allow drivers to choose different fuels with varying levels of ethanol at gas stations.