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Iowa Politics Roundup: Vilsack Advocates Cap-and-Trade at Fair PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 21 August 2009 13:38

Tom VilsackU.S. Agriculture Secretary and former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack advocated "cap and trade" legislation during a town-hall meeting at the Iowa State Fair, despite a hog farmer's plea that it would increase the cost of electricity and hurt small farmers.

"There is no question as I travel around the country ... [that] they are currently seeing the impact of climate change," Vilsack said. "There is an expectation of American leadership on this issue. The concern I have is that if we fail to lead on this issue ... it will impact not just the cap-and-trade conversation; it will impact our capacity to convince countries to do things in other areas."

Mike Ver Steeg from Inwood raised the issue with Vilsack during the hour-long meeting attended by about 200 farmers, union members, and elected officials.

"We need to not pass the cap-and-trade bill because I spend about $2,400 a month on electricity right now," Ver Steeg said. "If that goes through and I have to spend 30 to 50 percent more, I don't have profit right now. That's going to hurt small farmers like me."

Vilsack acknowledged that energy costs may go up but argued that in the short term, there would be offsets with cropping, fertilizer, methane, and nitrous-oxide reductions that would negate the increases.

"Agriculture generally, it's about a break-even proposition," he said. "Over the long haul, it is potentially tens of billions of dollars for net income opportunity for farmers and ranchers."

Asked later whether his position is unpopular in rural America, Vilsack said no. He said cap-and-trade provides the opportunity for innovation, and there's a division among farmers on the bill. He cited dead trees, erosion, and migration as effects of climate change. "The longer we delay dealing with this, the more expensive and the more dramatic it will be," he said.

Also during his visit to Iowa this week, Vilsack explained how roughly $2 billion available to help pork producers and dairy farmers has been exhausted, but he said the U.S. Department of Agriculture will still do what it can to help those struggling.

"We are cognizant of the need for help," Vilsack said. "We've purchased about $117 million of pork through our various commodity programs. It's about 72 million pounds of pork we've purchased. That's an increase of about 50 million over what we've done in the previous year. I realize that there's been a request for additional assistance. The problem has been in our capacity to respond. ... We had about a billion dollars available, and all of that resource except for the last couple of million dollars has been used because of the stress in so many different commodity areas."

Governor's Race Heats Up in the GOP

In one of the first direct attacks between Republican gubernatorial candidates, Christopher Rants this week dumped on Bob Vander Plaats' idea that the state should run Medicare and Medicaid for Iowans, saying it would break the bank and describing it as "the proverbial cure that's worse than the cold.

"Obama's plan spells trouble for Iowa, but the [Vander Plaats] plan spells bankruptcy," Rants said. "I don't think Bob has any idea just how much it would cost to have the state government take over the Medicare system, and all of Medicaid. This idea would almost double the size of our state budget."

Vander Plaats, a Sioux City businessman, made his comments about a new health-care plan for Iowa at the Marshalltown GOP Steak Fry, the Dallas County GOP picnic, and to Radio Iowa. But Rants said the plan would put Iowa's tax rate above neighboring states and kill Iowa's business climate. He said Vander Plaats "should know better than this."

Vander Plaats said in an interview with IowaPolitics.com that he was taken by surprise by the attack.

"I had to be chuckle to be quite honest with you ... ," he siad. "It almost sounded like he wanted to side with Barack Obama. It may be demonstrating very clearly who the frontrunner is in this race. Our goal is not to attack other Republicans. ... My goal is not only to run against the vision of Chet Culver; it's to run aggressively for the vision for Iowa."

Rants later told IowaPolitics.com that Vander Plaats is the frontrunner for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, but he said that's not why he called him out on his proposal.

"I called him out on it because it's a bad idea," Rants said in an interview with IowaPolitics.com. "As Republicans we're telling Iowans that we offer better ideas than Chet Culver. So if one of us offers a bad idea, I think they should be called on it."

Meanwhile, state Representative Rod Roberts said he's one of four Republican gubernatorial candidates who have been most actively campaigning this summer; he said the other top campaigners are Christian Fong, Rants, and Vander Plaats. Jerry Behn attends central-Iowa events, and Roberts said he hasn't seen Paul McKinley at any of the events.

"Relatively speaking, it is still early," Roberts said in an interview with IowaPolitics.com. "For several of us as candidates, it wasn't too early to begin the process to travel and to make an introduction to Iowans and share our message."

Roberts said he expects that well into fall, two or three or more people will still be seriously considering getting into the race. "Depending on their background and their status, they may have the luxury of being able to wait a couple more months," he said.

Roberts said he won't drop out, even if former Governor Terry Branstad or U.S. Representative Steve King enters the race.

King told IowaPolitics.com that he's still considering a run for governor next year but hasn't set a deadline for when he'll make a decision.

"I've not ruled that out," King said. "It would have to be clear to me on the path and the reason. The reasons are clear enough, but the path is another question. I just have to sit back and if it comes clear to me, I'd make an announcement. If it comes clear that I should not, then I'd also make an announcement."

Senate Minority Leader McKinley (R-Chariton) said that the possibility of Branstad entering the gubernatorial race has frozen the field, that fundraising is tough, and that while he's still exploring a run for governor, his recent focus has been on his work as the Senate Republican leader.

McKinley said he's been around the state in his capacity as the Senate leader. Since session ended, "I've been to every corner of the state three or four times," he said. He was the only presumed candidate not to appear at an IowaPolitics.com forum in July, and at a forum last weekend hosted by the Dallas County Republicans.

"I've had conflicts on both of those," said McKinley, who has an exploratory committee for governor and confirmed today that he still plans to step down as Senate Republican leader should he decide to run. "We'll see how things evolve," he said. "I've been in the exploratory phase and I've not made a final decision yet."