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January 6, 2016

Ted Cruz Passes on Principle

IPI expert referenced: Merrill Matthews | In The News | Media Hit
  Commentary

By Noah Rothman

It was a stinging blow and one that augmented Senator Ted Cruz’s appeal as, above all, a conservative of principle.

“I want a strong national defense, but I don’t want us to be bankrupt,” Cruz said on the debate stage in November. “I mention that the 25 programs that I put today, that I would eliminate them. Among them are corporate welfare, like sugar subsidies.” He went on to note that the sugar lobby is disproportionately influential when compared to the meager amount of sugar cultivation that is done in the United States. “That sort of corporate welfare is why we’re bankrupting our kids and grandkids.” To the untrained ear, the assault on Big Sugar came out of the blue. It was, in fact, a calculated attack on the figure who would become Cruz’s most potent rival for the GOP presidential nomination: Senator Marco Rubio.

Rubio was especially vulnerable to that line of attack. Not only does the Florida senator support the subsidies extended to the sugar cultivation industry, but his personal ties to one billionaire sugar industrialist, Jose “Pepe” Fanjul, open Rubio up to ethical questions.

“After the debate, Rubio campaign manager Terry Sullivan dismissed the significance of Cruz’s veiled attack on Rubio’s support for sugar subsidies, telling reporters that ‘.0000001 percent of the American people’ would understand it,”National Review’s Elaina Plott reported. This was a truly unsatisfactory response. Not only did it convey an insultingly low estimation of the electorate’s intelligence, but it also invited Cruz to elaborate on this line of attack – one that Rubio had quietly and tellingly absorbed without offering a reply.

In the intervening weeks, Cruz has presented himself as a rock-ribbed figure beholden only to the Constitution and conservative dogma, a governing program that, in theory, rejects corporate subsidies for well-connected industries. No exceptions. And Cruz generally held to this courageous stand, even when it negatively affected his electoral prospects in a crucial primary state, one that the Texas senator needs to emerge from victorious: Iowa.

For a state with a strong farming economy that benefits substantially from taxpayer-provided subsidies for alternative fuels, the 2005 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is sacred. Cruz declined to pander to the Iowa corn farmer when he refused to endorse the RFS – a program that mandates American transportation fuels contain a certain portion of renewables, including corn-based ethanol.

“I support biofuels. I think they have a major role in the energy market,” Cruz told an Iowa audience last March. “But I don’t think Washington should be picking winners and losers.”

“Cruz told reporters after his remarks he doesn’t believe his stance on the RFS will hurt him in Iowa because people will respect his honesty,” the Des Moines Register reported. “The public is fed up with politicians who say one thing to one group and another thing to other groups, he explained.” Well, it seems Iowa voters were confused about Cruz’s crystal-clear position on the RFS, and their misunderstanding compelled the Texas senator to publish an op-ed in Iowa’s largest newspaper clarifying his already perfectly transparent position on the issue.

“[M]any readers will have seen the furious coordinated effort being waged by Democrats and big-money lobbyists, who are together spending hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to convince Iowans that I oppose ethanol,” Cruz wrote for the Des Moines Register. “Their charges are utter nonsense.”

In the op-ed, Cruz repeated his support for an “all of the above” energy strategy that includes bio fuels, name-checked his supporter, Iowa Representative Steve King (as he does so often on the issue of immigration), and repeated his insistence that he would support the phasing out of the RFS. Moreover, he contended that he would support an end to what he called the EPA’s “blend wall,” which ensures the market is dominated by fuels that consist primarily of petrol products rather than ethanol.

“The Renewable Fuels Standard is not something that I would have voted for had I been in the Senate, but it is now existing law, and I think it would be unfair to simply yank it away from people that have made investments based on its existence,” Rubio said in November. Dominating the calculations of both Cruz and Rubio in their support for a dead mandate walking isn’t any fealty to a conservative principle so much as the fact that the RFS is wildly popular in Iowa, including among 60 percent of self-described Republicans.

Cruz’s unflinching principles have evolved rather radically over the years. Upon entering the U.S. Senate, as the Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney noted, Cruz backed a bill that would repeal the RFS immediately. While Cruz today supports a phasing the RFS out over five years, Rubio backs letting the mandate sunset in 2022 – when it is currently set to expire. Surely, there could be a substantial difference for energy consumers between a five-year phased termination and a sunset, but consumers won’t realize the benefits of a phasing out unless President Cruz expended energy and political capital making them a reality.

Cruz’s stand against the RFS was a noble one. As the Institute for Policy Innovation’s Merrill Matthews wrote for the Wall Street Journal, ethanol mandates increase the cost of driving, adds more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than do fossil fuels, and was crafted at a time when the junk science of “peak oil” was scaring entrepreneurial Americans into developing hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technology that has transformed the U.S. into one of the world’s largest energy producers. That Cruz could back this policy and remain at the top of the polls in the Hawkeye State suggested that the fever associated with addiction to federal subsidies was breaking, and Iowans were ready to commit to treatment. This climb down from Cruz suggests he’s willing to play the enabler so long as there is some associated political benefit.

Cruz’s clarification on the RFS isn’t exactly an about-face aimed entirely at 2016 (he committed to supporting a phased retirement of the RFS in 2014), but it is a setback for his campaign. To the extent that you believe Cruz can, as president, force Congress to pass a five-year phase out of the RFS in his first year in office so that it expires by the time it is already set to expire, it is the extent to which you have faith in Cruz’s commitment to his word. With this latest maneuver, some of the faithful may be experiencing a bit of a crisis.


 

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