Cruz defends phasing out ethanol mandate to Iowa audience

Ted CruzTed CruzTrump enters new debate frontier Pence offers Cruz 'heartfelt thanks' for Trump endorsement Cruz: Trump hasn't apologized for personal insults MORE on Thursday night defended his plan to phase out the federal ethanol mandate if elected president, a position that has put him at odds with Iowa's governor ahead of the state's caucuses next week.

Cruz has said he would end the mandate, which requires fuel refiners to blend a certain amount of ethanol into their gasoline supply, by 2022 if he wins the White House.

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The Texas senator is holding fast to that position despite the criticism he has faced in Iowa, the top ethanol-producing state in the nation. The state’s popular Republican governor, Terry Branstad, last week encouraged voters there to reject Cruz because of his position on the issue. 

Cruz, a Texas senator, reiterated during Thursday night’s debate in Des Moines, Iowa, that he opposes mandates and subsidies across the energy sphere, including for ethanol. 

“I don’t believe Washington should be picking winners and losers,” Cruz said moments after the Des Moines crowd cheered for Branstad, who was in the audience. “I believe there should be no mandates and no subsidies whatsoever.”

Cruz has introduced a bill to phase out the ethanol mandate over five years, though he has previously supported legislation to immediately end it. The position puts him at odds with Donald Trump, his top opponent in the Republican race in Iowa, who supports the mandate. 

Branstad last week said Cruz was “heavily financed by Big Oil,” an industry that opposes the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Cruz "hasn’t supported renewable fuels, and I think it would be a big mistake for Iowa to support him,” Branstad told reporters. Asked whether he wanted to see Cruz defeated, Branstad said “yes.”

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, too, said he supports phasing out the mandate rather than ending it immediately given that certain government contracts extend to 2022.

“I believe it’s probably unfair to withdraw the rug because people have invested money, people have invested a lot of energy into that," the White House contender said.

Carson said the federal government should butt out and let the country create new sources of energy.

“I’m very much against the government being involved in every aspect of our lives,” he said. “Last year, there were an additional 81,000 pages of government regulations. If you stack that up it would be a three-story building. This is absolutely absurd.”

Lydia Wheeler contributed to this report.