HAVERHILL, IA. – All the huff and puff on the campaign trail in Iowa aside, it’s likely that the wind energy tax credit will pass this fall, Iowans who follow the issue say.
It’s a topic that Iowa voters typically don’t bring up. But President Barack Obama loves to talk about it because it gives him an opening to bash GOP rival Mitt Romney for being opposed to an incentive that all of Iowa’s top politicians consider important.
“If he really wants to learn something about wind,” Obama said Tuesday, “all he’s got to do is pay attention to what you’ve been doing here in Iowa.”
Obama is keeping up a drumbeat on the issue at every campaign stop. At a wind farm in Haverhill on Tuesday, he said the tax credits help create jobs while the rest of the country benefits from “clean American energy.”
Iowa’s congressional delegation is cautiously optimistic the wind production tax credit will pass after the Nov. 6 elections as part of a larger bill, staffers told The Des Moines Register on Tuesday. All seven in the delegation support the tax credit.
But Republican political operatives in Iowa say Obama has politicized the issue. They say he’s trying to manufacture an issue where there isn’t one – and that he’s just trying to distract from his own record on jobs and the economy.
The debate on the campaign trail highlights that presidential candidates sometimes play up differences that are real, but may not have real effect on any legislation.
Action on the tax credit won’t happen before the election, aides for Iowa’s congressional delegation said.
After Nov. 6, when there’s more clarity to the political landscape, language is likely to get tacked onto a bigger bill and squeak through amid debate about the farm bill and George W. Bush-era tax cuts, staffers said.
But Jeff Giertz, an aide to Democratic U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, said he thinks it’s appropriate for Obama to focus on wind right now.
“If you get status quo in Congress after this election and a president who won’t sign it into law, then it’s gone,” he said.
Despite the expected likelihood of eventual passage, the uncertainty has fed turmoil in the wind energy industry, similar to delays in renewing the biodiesel tax credit two years ago, staffers said.
“The uncertainty results in lost jobs,” said Jill Kozeny, a spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, who got a one-year extension of the wind-energy production tax credit tacked onto a bill in committee earlier this month. “It was tens of thousands in the case of biodiesel.”
The political conflict isn’t between rival ideological factions within the U.S. House; it’s between the House and the Senate, staffers said.
It’s enough of a priority of the Senate that Senate leaders could use it as a bargaining chip or sticking point in negotiations with the House on some bigger bill. And there might be enough GOP support for the tax credit in the House that Republican representatives won’t go to the mat over it.
But if the balance of power in either chamber shifts Nov. 6, the tax credit’s prospects could shift, too.
Obama alludes to dog on car roof
To draw attention to the issue Tuesday, Obama poked fun at what his Republican rival mounts on the roof of his car.
“Governor Romney even explained his energy policy this way: I’m quoting here: ‘You can’t drive a car with a windmill on it.’ That’s what he said about wind power,” Obama told about 800 Iowans at a campaign rally in rural Oskaloosa.
“Now I don’t know if he’s actually tried that. I know he’s had other things on his car,” Obama said, to laughs and clapping.
Romney has gotten much ribbing since he shared an anecdote about how the family dog, Seamus, rode happily in a carrier attached to the roof of the car during a vacation.
Republicans didn’t appreciate the joke and in response stuck to their main talking points in attacking Obama’s record on the economy.
Matt Strawn, a former chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa, said: “One need only look to the last statewide election in Iowa to see how debt and the economy trumps all other issues with Iowa voters.”
Democrat Chet Culver largely centered his re-election campaign on being Iowa’s champion of wind energy, yet Iowans booted him out of the governor’s office, Strawn said.
“To think Iowans won’t do the same to Obama, whose record of debt, spending and economic incompetence is worse than Culver’s, is either naive or foolish,” he said.
Aide: Romney likes wind, not subsidies
Romney’s Iowa campaign aide, Shawn McCoy, said Tuesday that Romney is a strong supporter of wind power. The distinction is that Romney draws the line at government subsidies, contending that all sources of energy should compete on their own merits. The tax credit cost the federal government $1.6 billion this year.
“He appreciates the industry’s extraordinary technological progress and its important contributions to America’s energy supply,” McCoy said. “Unfortunately, under President Obama’s approach, the industry has lost 10,000 jobs, while growth in wind power nationally has slowed every single year of his term. Mitt Romney will instead set the industry on a course for success and growth by promoting policies that remove regulatory barriers, support free enterprise and market-based competition, and reward technological innovation.”
The spotlight on the failure of renewable energy projects that received federal stimulus money couldn’t have come at a worse time, said James Carstensen, chief of staff for Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Latham.
“Many Americans – and frankly some members of Congress – don’t separate the failures of companies like Solyndra that got the stimulus handout and the successes fostered by the wind energy tax credit,” Carstensen said.
While Obama hammered at Romney for not backing a wind tax credit that’s important in Iowa, Romney in Ohio hit hard on a message in favor of coal jobs and oil and natural gas, saying he will make America independent of oil from the Middle East and Venezuela. In Colorado, vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan went after Obama for failing to lead on the economy, entitlements or debt and deficits.
In Iowa, Obama didn’t bring up the headlines about Vice President Joe Biden, who sparked a controversy when he told a campaign rally in North Carolina that Romney’s regulatory policies will put people “in chains.” Republicans took umbrage at the slavery reference.
Obama makes stop at Iowa wind farm
Part of Obama’s wind-themed day was a meeting with father-and-son farmers Richard and Jeff Heil, who in recent years have brought several wind turbines to the 1,000-acre spread that their family has worked since 1902. The turbines are part of the Laurel Wind Farm, which comprises 52 turbines on 20,000 acres across central Iowa.
They walked along the edge of a field planted with soybeans and chatted about the turbines, about 30 of which were visible across the horizon. Obama could be heard peppering Jeff Heil with questions about the operation.
At the conclusion of the 10-minute conversation, Obama shook Jeff Heil’s hand with his right, while clutching his shoulder with his left in a prolonged embrace. Then they hugged.