Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, via Flickr Creative Commons
Earlier today the internet was littered with bloggers crowing or, alternatively having full grown cows passed down their alimentary canal, over a report that Ted Cruz had caved to the Renewable Fuel Lobby and was suddenly supporting this boondoggle.

Most of you know the background. When Ted Cruz visited Iowa earlier in the year he rejected the mandate that gasoline contain ethanol, the so-called Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), in favor of letting the consumers decide if they wanted to use gasoline cut with ethanol. With the end of RFS, the subsidies that make the boondoggle a lucrative money extraction device for large agribusinesses would also come to an end. Since Cruz has been campaigning in Iowa, he has been dogged by a group owned by ethanol rent-seekers and run by the son of the Iowa governor bitching about how Cruz is threatening their gravy train.

Enter America’s Renewable Future, the group run by Terry Brandstad’s git. The fired out this press release, essentially declaring victory.

During a bus tour stop in Sioux Center, Iowa last night, Senator Ted Cruz expressed support for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) through 2022.

Responding to a question from an ethanol investor from Iowa about whether he would allow the landmark energy program to continue through its current expiration in 2022, Sen. Cruz responded by expressing support for the RFS through 2022.

Senator Cruz also expressed passionate support for breaking through the so-called “blendwall”. “That blendwall makes it illegal for ethanol to expand its market penetration, and I intend to eliminate the EPA blendwall to get rid of that barrier, which will enable ethanol to expand in the marketplace to a much larger penetration to sell more ethanol….”

The comments were substantially repeated at another stop in Cherokee, Iowa the same evening. You can listen to audio of the remarks here. and below.

Woohoo. He caved. Or so a lot of people thought.

As Tim Carney, of the Washington Examiner, says, this is a perfect storm of bad reporting, bad assumptions, and Ted Cruz being too clever by half in his seeming agreement with a potential voter. Carney, it should be noted, was with Cruz when he was speaking.

With some hasty blogging–and exacerbated by an Iowan’s mistaken assertion about the ethanol mandate, Ted Cruz’s shrewd answering, and the ethanol lobby’s odd response–I contributed to some confusion about Ted Cruz’s views on the ethanol mandate. (For the sake of candor, my original [probably misleading] post is at the bottom of this article.) … So, whence my confusion?
1) I figured if the ethanol lobby was applauding Cruz, then Cruz had changed. This was a simplistic assumption on my part.
2) I didn’t fully parse Cruz’s answer. The Iowan asked, basically, if Cruz would leave the mandate alone until 2022, and Cruz’s tone was one of agreement, and so I assumed he said yes. In fact, he didn’t. He still promised a “gradual phaseout” as above.
3) The whole thing was confused by a false premise in the Iowan’s question–a premise Cruz explicitly accepted: that under current law the ethanol mandate will expire in 2022.

Carney notes that this is consistent with the position Cruz has held since 2014:

Sen. Ted Cruz in 2013 co-sponsored the “Renewable Fuel Standard Repeal Act,” which would immediately repeal the ethanol mandate. In 2014, he introduced a broad energy bill that would wind down the mandate over five years, slashing the federally mandated volume of renewable fuels (including corn ethanol) by twenty percent every year for five years.

And a phase out makes much more sense than an outright repeal if we actually want to see if the industry is economically viable and preserve the jobs associated with it rather than simply shut it down. Not to say shutting it down is bad, but phasing it out seems a better solution. A sizable number of kidney stones were also passed by Cruz announcing that he was against the “blend wall” that limits ethanol content. No one should have a problem with this. The problem is with the a) taxpayer subsidies and b) the mandatory use of the product. If someone develops a product based on a higher ethanol mix and people buy it, that is a good thing. The purpose of the government should not be to choose winners or losers. And there is this from Dave Weigel who is no friend of conservatives:

I think this hits it dead on. The writing is on the wall. Ted Cruz is going to kick major butt in Iowa unless a catastrophe of Biblical proportions befalls him. This Corn Lobby group has two choices. They can be humiliated, or they can claim victory and walk away. They chose the better part of valor.

Image credit: Gage Skidmore, via Flickr Creative Commons