Mitt Romney’s recent tilt against windmills is whipping up a political furor on Capitol Hill and putting the presumptive Republican presidential nominee at odds with members of his own party.
The former Massachusetts governor would allow a tax credit for wind energy production companies to expire at the end of the year, Iowa campaign spokesman Shawn McCoy told the Des Moines Register:
"He will allow the wind credit to expire, end the stimulus boondoggles, and create a level playing field on which all sources of energy can compete on their merits. Wind energy will thrive wherever it is economically competitive, and wherever private sector competitors with far more experience than the president believe the investment will produce results."
For the chorus of Republicans who have been calling for a short-term extension of the tax credit, the announcement was disappointing and surprising.
A furious Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who authored the first wind production tax credit in 1992, said he was shocked that he wasn't consulted before Romney's statement.
“I don't think it's going to stand,” Grassley told reporters on Tuesday. “I don't think that that's the real position of the party, because they said that they were going to consult me on this stuff, and they haven't gotten my view.”
The American Wind Energy Association put the number of wind-industry supported U.S. jobs at 75,000 and said the industry drives as much as $20 billion in private investment. The trade group estimated the loss of 10,000 wind-industry jobs this year if the tax credit is allowed to expire.
Grassley, a chief proponent for extending the tax credit, has repeatedly stressed such looming job losses in pressing Congress to pass a short-term extension. The tax credit is imperative to Iowa, which has the highest number of wind energy jobs in the U.S. Grassley isn’t the only Hawkeye State Republican dismayed by Romney’s stance.
Iowa Rep. Tom Latham (R) and Gov. Terry Branstad (R) have also made their differences of opinion with their presumptive presidential candidate heard. Following the Romney campaign’s announcement on Monday, Latham told the Register that Romney's position on the tax credits reflect "a lack of full understanding of how important the wind energy tax credit is for Iowa and our nation. It’s the wrong decision. Wind energy represents one of the most innovative and exciting sectors of Iowa’s economy."
Romney and other Republicans who oppose the tax break argue it costs too much -- around $1.6 billion this year -- and props up businesses with government subsidies. But in Iowa, leading Republicans support the tax credit, which costs considerably less than energy subsidies for oil, coal and natural gas.
Jenae Jenison, a spokeswoman for Branstad’s office, said the governor agrees with Romney on most issues, but underscored the importance of the wind energy industry in Iowa and in diversifying the nation’s energy portfolio.
“There is an opportunity to further educate Governor Romney and his team on the benefits of a short-term wind energy tax credit extension,” Jenison said in an emailed statement. “This would allow the industry to continue its growth while we prepare for the eventual elimination of the tax credit over a period of years.”
Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) also reiterated his support for extending the tax credits, telling The Huffington Post he has “been on record for a long time on the issue.” Brown, who joined Grassley and other senators in pushing a bipartisan proposal to extend the tax credit for two years, declined to comment on Romney’s opposition.
But Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) took a thinly veiled shot at Romney and his aversion to the wind-power tax breaks during a Senate floor speech Tuesday evening, after touting the tax credit as a “critical investment in American jobs.”
“I can't help but mention that there have been some on the campaign trail who have suggested that we should let the wind production tax credit lapse at the end of this year and that wind power should not be given the same help that other industries have received,” Udall said. “I could not disagree more. Letting the wind production tax credit lapse would be irresponsible." The credit "equals jobs. We should pass it as soon as possible.”
President Barack Obama has called on Congress to renew the credit, warning of the impending job losses.
Arkansas Sen. John Boozman (R) expressed similar caution in an interview with HuffPost on Tuesday, and said that he plans to take up the issue with Romney and his team.
“I think it’s something that we need to talk about,” Boozman said. “I’m very much in favor of reinstating. I do think that they don’t go on forever. I think we extend them over a period of time and then start to phase them out, but you don’t pull the plug.”
Grassley said he also plans to personally discuss the tax credit extension with Romney. The senator said he remained suspicious of Romney’s opposition, saying he would give it full credence if it came from Boston rather than a local Iowa spokesman.
Romney spokesman Ryan Williams, who does represent the Boston headquarters, said in an email that Romney "believes the government should stop playing venture capitalist and doling out open-ended subsidies, and instead encourage private sector innovation and market competition.”
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) aimed a few choice words at Romney when confronted by reporters on Tuesday: “Good luck in Iowa!” he quipped, before walking away.
The Romney campaign’s reasoning is also unlikely to silence Grassley, whose relationship with the tax credits spans two decades. Grassley's final comment to reporters on Tuesday was personal and emotional.
“It's strange to me that this would come out of Iowa, where the father of the wind energy tax credit happens to be the senior senator,” Grassley said.