Update: When Barack Met Chuck…

Following up on Nick’s rant about Chuck Grassley…

The Obama administration relented and gave the senator assurances (courtesy of Secretary Clinton and U.S. Trade Rep Ron Kirk) that the tariff on sugarcane-based ethanol, mainly from Brazil, will not be lifted.

I had seen a couple of indicators that I thought were hopeful signs for progress on Doha.  Obama sending signals on the ethanol tariff and leaders at last month’s G8 summit apparently making some headway on subsidies seemed like an opportunity. 

It’s commonplace to argue that the importance of the Iowa caucus in U.S. presidential politics is the roadblock to reforming U.S. trade and agriculture policy.  I’m sure the caucus is relevant to disastrous and unjust subsidy laws in general, but in this case, the problem is the structure of the U.S. Senate and the absurd inability of Democrats to unite on healthcare reform.  Chuck Grassley is a conservative Republican– and while this blog is no place to write about the details of U.S. healthcare politics, it’s worth pointing out that he has no business being anywhere close to “bipartisan” negotiations on a Democratic priority like healthcare in a year after Democrats had a stunning victory at the polls. 

Now, Grassley is key to Obama’s efforts to give political cover to moderate Democrats on healthcare.  So the result: effective healthcare reform becomes impossible. And unfair trading practices continue.  And the corn ethanol subsidy monster gets fed again.  And Brazil, a developing economy and possible U.S. ally in Latin America is snubbed.  And the real environmental benefits of  sugarcane ethanol (as opposed to the fictional benefits of the corn variety) are unexploited in a country that desperately needs to make progress ahead of the Copenhagan summit, if no to–you know– help the environment. And poor people starve thanks to American subsidy policy contributing to the global food crisis.  

Anyone else want to scream?


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