Iowa GOP lawmaker backs repeal of ethanol subsidy

A conservative Iowa congressman said Wednesday that he would support the elimination of a key federal ethanol subsidy, a statement that could impact his state's important presidential caucus.

Rep. Steve King (R) said that the ethanol industry in Iowa has indicated to him that it could accept the gradual repeal of the "blenders' credit," a tax credit that provides incentives for petroleum producers to blend ethanol into their fuels. 

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"I think they are ready to go there and the timing and the sequence of it is still open to debate. And yes, I will support that," he told CNN's Eliot Spitzer. "It looks to me like the industry is ready to accept that. And over a very short period of time, I think the industry can stand on its own two feet."

King's comments could provide political cover for GOP presidential candidates who come out against ethanol subsidies, which have long been a sacred cow in the Hawkeye State.

Ethanol has already emerged as a salient issue on the campaign trail as candidates gear up for Iowa's first in the nation caucuses.

But the politics of ethanol appear to be shifting, as conservative Tea Party activists and fiscal conservatives have voiced support for ending federal subsidies, arguing that doing so could help close the nation's yawning budget gap. Still, supporters say that the subsidies remain popular and provide a jolt to Iowa's economy.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) said he wants to get rid of federal energy subsidies, including those that go to the ethanol industry, the same day he announced his candidacy in Iowa. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) also said she favors eliminating the subsidies.

But not all contenders have taken that step: former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), the field's presumed front-runner, supports keeping the subsidies.