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President claims progress with biofuels

DANIEL LOOKER 05/23/2012 @ 11:00pm Business Editor

After visiting a wind energy plant in Newton, Iowa, Thursday, President Barack Obama made a campaign stop at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, where he was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd of supporters at the Paul R. Knapp Animal Learning Center.


In Newton, Obama urged Congress to extend the tax credits that support the wind energy, credits that will expire this year if it doesn't act.


Obama said it's not a partisan issue, pointing out that Iowa's Republican Governor, Terry Branstad, supports renewing the credit, as do members of both parties in Congress. 


In Des Moines, Obama's stop was purely political, with only a few references to the agricultural economy that gave rise to a state fair that is often an early stop by politicians seeking the presidency. 


Obama sought to portray his likely opponent, former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney, as insensitive to the needs of the middle class. It was at the Iowa State Fair that Romney "famously declared that corporations are people," Obama said.


After Romney more recently visited Iowa to talk about "a prairie fire of debt" facing the nation, Obama on Thursday called that "a cow pie of distortion."


Obama said that under his presidency, federal spending has risen at the slowest pace of any president in almost 60 years.


The president mentioned farmers when he said that Romney would give tax breaks to nearly every millionaire in the U.S. 


"We're not going to pay for it by short-changing farmers in rural America," Obama said.


Obama said that under his administration biofuel production in the U.S. has almost doubled and that the nation's dependence on imported oil has fallen. 


Although Obama spend only a few minutes talking about agriculture, he has praise for his Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack, Iowa's former governor.


Vilsack, who was one of several Democratic officials firing up the crowd before Obama's arrival, did spend more time describing the nation's agricultural economy. 


"Our farmers and our ranchers are the most productive and the best in the world," Vilsack said.  "We're exporting American grown products all over the world, and when we do, we create jobs."


Vilsack said that Obama has helped support more energy independence as biofuel production has expanded. Three years ago the nation imported 62% of its petroleum and today it imports 45%, Vilsack said. 


"He supports the renewable fuel standard," Vilsack said of Obama. "He is committed to expanding renewable energy and the jobs that will come with it." 


President Obama's visit to Newton drew this response from Iowa's Republican Senator, Chuck Grassley, who sponsored wind energy tax credit legislation in 1992. 


“I’m glad the President likes Iowa but his visit won’t have much to do with getting the wind energy tax credit extended," Grassley said in a statement Thursday. "He could travel down the street from the White House to the Capitol and talk to the congressional leadership instead, especially in the Senate, controlled by his party.  It was surprising to read in the paper this week that he hasn’t talked to key committee chairmen in his own party in months." 

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