Some of our media friends gripe that Iowa is the wrong state to start the GOP presidential race because it’s full of social conservatives. The real reason it’s a bad place to start is because it’s the heartland of Republican corporate welfare.
Witness this weekend’s pander fest known as the Ag Summit, in which the potential 2016 candidates competed to proclaim their devotion to the Renewable Fuel Standard and the 2.3-cent per kilowatt hour wind-production tax credit. The event was hosted by ethanol kingpin Bruce Rastetter, co-founder of Hawkeye Energy Holdings, who interviewed the candidates and made sure each one had a chance to light a votive candle to his cause.
“Don’t mess with the RFS,” declared Iowa’s GOP Governor Terry Branstad at the start of festivities, referring to the mandate that requires a minimum amount of renewables be blended into transportation fuels. Two of the biggest enthusiasts were Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, the social conservatives who won the last two Iowa presidential caucuses before sputtering in New Hampshire.
The fuel standard “creates jobs in small town and rural America, which is where people are hurting,” said Mr. Santorum, who must have missed the boom in farm incomes of recent years.
Scott Walker, who in 2006 said he opposed the renewable fuel standard, did a switcheroo and now sounds like St. Augustine. He’s for ethanol chastity, but not yet. The Wisconsin Governor said his long-term goal is to reach a point when “eventually you didn’t need to have a standard,” but for now mandating ethanol is necessary to ensure “market access.”
Jeb Bush at least called for phasing out the wind credit, which was supposed to be temporary when it became law in 1992. But he danced around the renewable standard, which became law when his brother signed the energy bill passed by the Nancy Pelosi-Harry Reid Congress.
“The law that passed in 2007 has worked, for sure,” the former Florida Governor said, though he reckoned that the mandate may at some point prove moot because “ethanol will be such a valuable” product. Ethanol Nirvana is always just around the corner.
Chris Christie wouldn’t repudiate the wind tax credit, perhaps because in 2010 the New Jersey Governor signed into law $100 million in state tax credits for offshore wind production. He also endorsed the RFS as the law of the land, saying the President should do “what the law requires.” That’s nice, but what voters want to know is what Mr. Christie thinks the law should be.
Former Texas Governor Rick Perry sounded somewhat contrite for supporting the wind tax credit, which has been a boon for Texas energy companies. Now his default position is that states, not Washington, should pick energy winners and losers.
The only Ag Summiteer who flat-out opposed the RFS was Texas Senator Ted Cruz , who has also sponsored a bill in Congress to repeal it. In response to Mr. Rastetter’s claim that oil companies were shutting ethanol out of the market, he noted “there are remedies in the antitrust laws to deal with that if you’re having market access blocked.” Bravo.
Political cynics will say we’re, well, tilting at windmills by expecting politicians to swear off energy subsidies, but that merely proves our point about the Iowa caucuses. If they were thinking bigger, Republicans would understand that they’ll have more credibility to reform social welfare if they oppose corporate welfare.
— Wall Street Journal,