It was broadly reported yesterday that Ted Cruz had “flipped” on the question of ethanol mandates. Pretty much immediately, Cruz’s critics suggested a) that this shift in position must mean that he is worried about his position in Iowa, and b) that his “steadfast conservative” claim was being exposed as a charade. I was among those who took the claim that Cruz has shifted his position at face value.
The problem with that? It’s not quite true. Cruz has changed his mind on ethanol in the past. But he did so in 2014, in which year he moved from supporting an immediate and full repeal of the ethanol mandate to supporting a gradual phase-out. As Tim Carney notes, his position has not changed since then:
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 20 percent every year for five years.
Last night in Cherokee, Iowa, Cruz said again that he believed in “a gradual phaseout” of the mandate over five years. The ethanol lobby group — America’s Renewable Future — responded to this by declaring that Cruz had decided to “listen to Iowa farmers.”
Or, put another way, America’s Renewable Future claimed victory for a position that Cruz already held.
Supporters of Marco Rubio who hit Cruz for a lack of resolve should perhaps consider the glass house in which they are standing. Although imperfect, Cruz’s position on ethanol subsidies is infinitely preferable to Marco Rubio’s position on sugar subsidies. Not only has Rubio steadfastly refused to back a phase-out for sugar, he’s gone as far as to defend the subsidy as an important part of America’s national defense strategy. For my money, Cruz wins this round.