Bush Campaign Lies

Saturday, April 03, 2004

Bush Campaign Lie #20: Kerry Flip-Flopped on Ethanol 

The GOP claims this is 'Kerry Flip-Flop' number 10. I can't say I blame them too much in this instance; it took a fair amount of research to discover what was going on behind the scenes. But all of the GOP evidence that Kerry was ever opposed to ethanol is based on his Senate voting record, and we've already discussed how easy it is to distort a voting record.

The Bush campaign cites five Senate votes as evidence Kerry opposed ethanol. They can be grouped into three categories:

  1. Kerry supported an amendment which denied funds to 'promulgate, implement, or enforce any requirement that a specified percentage of oxygen content of reformulated gasoline . . . come from renewable oxygenates'. It also reduced NASA's procurement budget by $39,300,000.
  2. He opposed two amendments which either suggested or enforced the idea that ethanol/biodiesel fuels would be exempt from the Clinton administration's BTU tax.
  3. He supported two amendments which both stated that renewable fuel 'shall be subject to liability standards no less protective of human health, welfare and the environment than any other motor vehicle fuel or fuel additive'.
Taken together, these votes seem to provide pretty persuasive evidence that Kerry hasn't done much to promote ethanol fuel. And he certainly is campaigning as an ethanol supporter now. So, why isn't this a flip-flop?

Let's take the Bush campaign points one at a time. For item (1), it turns out the amendment in question only prohibits foreign refineries to set their own rules about minimum renewable resource content in gasoline. Kerry specifically asked for this clarification on the floor of the Senate:

"Mr KERRY: It is my understanding that this proposal does not apply to any other proposal presented by U.S. independent importers and blenders, and being considered by EPA, to eliminate inequities in the final EPA reformulated gasoline rule issued last December. Is this correct?

Ms. MIKULSKI: That is correct. The committee's prohibition is limited to EPA's proposal to permit foreign refineries to establish individual baselines for reformulated gasoline . Thus, the provision does not prevent the EPA from making modifications to the reformulated gasoline program that will permit domestic independent importers and blenders to participate in the gasoline market on an equal basis with domestic refiners."
More important, this amendment trimmed funding for NASA, and Kerry thought NASA was spending irresponsibly on the space station. This is probably why he supported the amendment.

Items (2) and (3) both boil down to priorities. In each case, Kerry had to determine the primacy of ethanol versus some other issue. In item (2), it was ethanol versus Clinton's BTU tax. For item (3), it was ethanol versus public safety. So the correct conclusion isn't that Kerry necessarily opposed ethanol use, only that he valued the BTU tax over ethanol production, and that he values public safety over ethanol production.

Skeptical Republicans should note that Bush has made similar value judgements. This article doesn't prove that Bush was against women's rights and indifferent to al-Qaeda in May 2001; it only shows that he was more interested in the war on drugs than in women's rights or defeating al-Qaeda. Similarly, this article only proves that having Uzbekistan in the 'coalition of the willing' is more important to Bush than human rights in Uzbekistan.

The GOP merely found some instances where Kerry had to weigh his support for ethanol against something else, and ethanol lost. That's not the same as opposing ethanol use.

11:26 PM