In recent weeks, Congress has continued to chop at agriculture funds like a manic lumberjack. On June 16, the Senate voted down a tax credit for ethanol, putting Republicans on record as being willing to raise taxes. If that was the Democrat’s strategy, mission accomplished; but such game playing is no consolation to the sizable contingent of Americans employed in the biofuels industry.

For more, see Ethanol, Congress and tax credits.

How did the series of ethanol votes unfold? About a month ago, Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn introduced an amendment to repeal the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC – also known as the blenders’ credit), a 45-cent-per-gallon tax incentive that goes to blenders and refiners when blending ethanol into gasoline.

“When the price of a barrel of oil is low, it serves as an incentive for them to go ahead and blend above and beyond the Renewable Fuel Standard,” said Jessica Bennett, National Corn Growers Association director of public policy, during a Friday interview with Delta Farm Press. “We see it as a pretty important piece of policy when it comes to the ethanol industry and our market access.”

Sen. Coburn wanted a repeal of the tax credit “as of July 1 – just take it away completely – to achieve some cost savings that go towards the federal deficit. He’s been a big opponent of ethanol for quite some time so it wasn’t a surprise he’d try to do that.”

Even with his fellow senators being surprised at the timing, “Coburn was able to get a vote on Tuesday (June 14). The Democratic leadership, on principal alone, decided to vote against it. That vote went down by a pretty significant margin: 40 to 59. It was close to a straight party-line vote.

“We were happy and pleased that (ethanol proponents) achieved that victory.”

But it wasn’t to last. Later Tuesday, “there was a compromise, or deal, reached where Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., was promised a vote on the exact same amendment. We thought that vote would be held in the next couple of weeks. A few months ago, (Feinstein) was also a co-sponsor of a (similar ethanol) bill that Sen. Coburn had introduced.”

To clear the issue off the table, the Senate Majority leader, Nevada’s Harry Reid, scheduled a vote on Thursday (June 16). The Senate then voted 73-27 in favor of eliminating the VEETC.

Asked the reason for the Senate’s reversal, Bennett said “I think ethanol was a victim of circumstance. The Senate vote was more about politics than policy.

“I think the Democrats were backing the Republicans into a corner. They forced a vote on what they saw as ‘subsidies’ – although, we don’t view this as a subsidy. But that’s how it’s being billed in the press and in the talking points coming out of the Democratic side of the aisle.

The Democrats can now “tell Republicans ‘Look, you’ve voted for repealing subsidies for an industry. This is seen as a tax increase on an industry. Now, you’re on the record doing this. Let’s go after multiple industries. You said you were okay with this, so let’s go after the oil and gas industries.’

“The Democrats are using this as a political chip as Congress moves forward in the debate on the deficit and debt ceiling.

“Again, we were a victim of circumstance more than policy.”