It's King Corn day in Iowa and the POTUS candidates are there

You probably aren’t seeing much about it on television (a fact which our potential GOP presidential candidates are glad of, I’m sure) but today is a big day in Iowa. It’s the opening of The Iowa Ag Summit, and if you happen to be concerned about being popular in the Hawkeye State for some reason, you probably want to show up there. If you read the description of the event, it all sounds innocent enough.

The 2015 Iowa Ag Summit will highlight and promote agriculture. Most importantly, the event will allow elected officials and public policy leaders to have a public discussion on issues that are vital to the Iowa and American economy.

Every four years Iowa becomes an epicenter of American politics, often shaping and almost always reflecting national policy movements. Unfortunately, until now there has not been a forum solely dedicated to matters that directly affect Iowa farmers who feed and fuel not just the country, but the world.

Well, who could object to that? Everyone loves farmers and agriculture is an important subject. Of course, if you read further into the description, the real purpose of this conference isn’t much of a mystery. Chief among the topics under discussion at various panels are renewable fuels, biosciences, and federal subsidies. And we all know what that means.

So who is scheduled to appear as a speaker? As of this morning the list includes, but is not limited to:

Jeb Bush
Chris Christie
Ted Cruz
Lindsey Graham
Mike Huckabee
George Pataki
Rick Perry
Marco Rubio (* Note: conflicting reports as to whether he will attend)
Rick Santorum
Donald Trump
Scott Walker

You may be sensing a theme here. This has the potential to be a case of life imitating art, since it could be taken straight off the pages of the script from the West Wing episode, King Corn. All of these candidates are going to be expected to take a stand on the issue of ethanol subsidies. So how will they each answer? Before they do, they might want to take a look at last summer’s CBO report on the short and long term effects of the Renewable Fuel Standard in terms of American pocketbooks.

Using a range of estimates of the price premium necessary to encourage sufficient additional supplies of advanced biofuels and the price subsidy necessary to motivate sufficient sales of E85, CBO estimates that complying with the EISA volumes scenario would have the following effects on the prices of three key types of transportation fuels in 2017:

– The price of petroleum-based diesel would rise by 30 cents to 51 cents per gallon, or 9 percent to 14 percent (because the RFS requires fuel suppliers to bear the cost of ensuring that certain amounts of renewable fuels are used for each gallon of petroleum-based fuel that they sell);
– The price of E10—which is currently the most commonly used transportation fuel in the United States—would increase by 13 cents to 26 cents per gallon, or 4 percent to 9 percent; and,
– The price of E85 would decline by 91 cents to $1.27 per gallon, or 37 percent to 51 percent.

The RFS is bad news all the way around, rife with the stench of big government and market tampering. But today’s event is yet another example of how the outsized influence of Iowa in presidential politics has a ripple effect which touches everyone in the country. How these candidates answer the questions which will be put to them should be instructive for conservatives as they consider their choices in the 2016 primary.

The Wall Street Journal has compiled a list of past statements and actions by many of the candidates on the subject of the RFS and ethanol subsidies in general. Interestingly, it seems that Jeb Bush has never publicly commented on it. Ted Cruz is authoring legislation to repeal the RFS. Rick Perry sought a waiver for Texas from the standard, but doesn’t seem to have called for its elimination entirely. Scott Walker refused to join a group of Midwestern governors urging support for the RFS, but his issues page on agriculture makes no mention of it.

Interestingly, Huckabee and Santorum came out in favor of ethanol in their last runs. We’ll have to see if they stick to that position this weekend. But when the whole thing is over, I’ll try to collect up the results and do a follow-up here. When you want to be president, sometimes you have to make some hard decisions. In this case, winning over conservatives may mean needing to tick off some folks in Iowa.