U.S. presidential hopefuls in the Republican Party faced off Saturday in a summit on agriculture in Des Moines, Iowa, revealing sharp policy differences on fuel subsidy and immigration issues.
Iowa is the first state to be contested in the long presidential nomination process next year. Nine White House hopefuls participated in the daylong forum at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.
Federal fuel subsidies — which require biofuels to be mixed with gasoline — are a particular point of interest to farmers in Iowa whose corn is used for ethanol. Yet several of the candidates said they were against the Renewable Fuel Standard. A pro-ethanol coalition, America's Renewable Future, helped sponsor the summit.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush said he was opposed to government interference in the biofuel market. "The markets are ultimately going to have to decide this," he said.
But Bush did not say when he might phase the subsidies out, and he said the RFS had worked to help reduce America's dependence on foreign oil. The RFS was established under the administration of his brother, former President George W. Bush.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas was more adamant about dropping the government mandate. "The answer you’d like me to give is, ‘I’m for the RFS, darn it,’ ” Cruz said. “But I’ll tell you, people are pretty fed up, I think, with politicians who run around telling one group one thing, another group another thing, and then go to Washington and they don’t do anything they said they’d do.”
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who is currently at the top of the polls in Iowa, said he would continue the subsidies for now, but phase them out once a market for the fuels had been established.
On immigration, Bush defended his support for comprehensive reform, saying that a broken system has to be fixed to bring undocumented workers "out of the shadows" by making sure they "pay fines, that they learn English, that they work, that they don't receive government assistance, that they earn legalized status over the long haul."
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina also called for immigration reform, but New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said it would be enough to enforce current laws and "make them work."
One subject all nine candidates agreed on was President Barack Obama's initiative to open up diplomatic relations with Cuba. They were unanimous in their criticism.
Other presidential aspirants at the forum were former Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, former New York Governor George Pataki and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.
Saturday's event was one of a series to be held in Iowa on a variety of issues designed to draw out the positions of presidential hopefuls.
The Iowa caucuses are set for January 18.