DES MOINES — Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz risked the ire of Iowa farmers by staking out free-market positions on two federal policies favored by agribusiness at a summit Saturday.
The two likely Republican presidential candidates opposed an ethanol requirement favored by corn farmers as well as a wind tax credit in a state where more than a quarter of electricity is generated by wind. They were speaking at the the Iowa Ag Summit, which was organized by the state’s largest Republican donor, Bruce Rastetter, at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines.
Most of the other GOP candidates appearing at the summit were more friendly toward the two policies.
Front and center at the summit was the renewable fuel standard, or RFS, a federal mandate requiring transportation fuel contain a minimum of fuels such as ethanol, produced in Iowa cornfields, in addition to petroleum. Rastetter, who interviewed each candidate on stage for 20 minutes, called removing the standard a “mandate” to use oil. The RFS is championed by the first-in-the-nation caucus state’s leadership, with Gov. Terry Branstad telling the hopefuls: “Don’t mess with RFS.”
But Cruz and Bush told the crowd of almost 1,000 Iowans involved in the agriculture industry they’d do just that.
“The market is ultimately going to have to decide this,” Bush said. Cruz took a similar tack an hour later, saying the composition of fuel “should be driven by the market” and that the American people are tired of politicians “giving the easy answer.”
The two were also allied on ending the federal wind tax credit, with Bush calling for phasing it out over a three- to five-year window and Cruz calling it a form of “corporate welfare.” “I don’t think it should be the federal government dictating that,” Cruz added.
Their message was at odds with other likely candidates: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Sen. Rick Santorum all backed the renewable fuel standard. “Ethanol creates jobs in small town, rural America,” Santorum said.
Walker sought to thread the needle, saying he would support phasing out the wind tax credit and RFS in due time. “I believe in a free and open market,” Walker said, but said he supports continuing the RFS “because it’s a market access issue.”
The candidates expressed sharp divisions on immigration reform, another contentious issue in Iowa.
“I’m not a supporter of amnesty,” said Walker, implying that others were. Cruz echoed the same.
But Bush, an outspoken support of immigration reform argued that “Immigrants that are here need to have a path to legalized status,” calling “the only serious, thoughtful way to deal with this.”
“Strom Thurmond had four kids after he was 67. If you’re not willing to do that, we need immigration,” echoed Sen. Lindsey Graham, explaining that Republicans would have to accept a path to legal status for those in the U.S. illegally as part of any agreement to secure the border and expand legal immigration.
But Republicans found unanimity in opposition to requirements that genetically modified food be labeled as such, in opposition to EPA rulemaking to expand the definition of ‘waters’ it regulates under the Clean Water Act, and on trade, calling for President Obama to be granted trade promotion authority.