Deficit Reduction vs. Build Back Better at State of the Union

Tonight is one of the most important dates on the political calendar for political junkies and talking heads, Keep It Rural readers. It’s the State of the Union address, President Biden’s first since he was inaugurated in January 2021.

President Biden is expected to deliver a domestic policy agenda that emphasizes budget deficit reduction over stimulus spending and ambitious public-sector projects, in addition to talking about the front-and-center Russian invasion of Ukraine and continued Covid-19 pandemic. Policy-wise, this means folks expect Biden to be dumping the Democrats’ Build Back Better agenda for a campaign-year push on cutting deficits and cutting costs.

As we have previously reported, Build Back Better (BBB) represents one of the largest investments in rural America ever, on par with the New Deal of the 1930s and the Great Society of the 1960s. Some of the most important rural-supporting components of Build Back Better include:

  • Billions in funding for affordable housing, a critical need in many rural communities.
  • Billions into conservation programs for farmers, forests and public lands, a huge boost to existing farm bill budgets. This spending also represents key pieces of the White House’s climate action and 30×30 conservation plans.
  • Billions for clean energy, energy efficiency and transition support for declining fossil-dependent communities.
  • Billions in debt relief for “socially disadvantaged” and low-income farmers.
  • Billions in spending for rural water and wastewater infrastructure.
  • Re-starting the now-expired Child Tax Credits that support millions of rural American families.
  • Billions to support affordable high-speed internet in rural areas.

With this list, along with other unlisted investments in rural health care and nutrition programs, the BBB agenda has repeatedly polled very high in popularity among rural voters. Those same polls show that President Biden and the Democrats are struggling with voter popularity, though Republicans aren't doing very well either. And nearly everyone—large majorities of Republicans, Democrats and Independents—now supports raising taxes on corporations and rich people to fund government spending or deficit reduction.

Addressing the “Democrats’ rural problem” (see more below in Last Thing) is going to be an important factor in the 2022 mid-term elections this November. Some Democratic players are going to be supportive of the moves to emphasize fiscal conservatism and austerity, in the mold of what you might call a “Manchin Democrat.” Others are going to point to the need for historic investments, delivering on campaign promises and government support for poor and working class Americans (including rural Americans). The “Democrats are in disarray” headlines are going to write themselves.

To me, what’s on the line is the best actual opportunity in my lifetime to pass a federal budget that makes meaningful improvements to rural economies, creates rural jobs, supports rural health care and cleans up or reduces pollution. And Democrats can get that done, through the budget reconciliation package, this year. I don’t particularly care whether they call it “Build Back Better” or the “2022 Budget” or the “We Know Zero Republicans Will Vote For This Act.”

What I do care about is single moms in Early County, Georgia, getting their child tax credits so they can pay their bills. I care about creating a million Civilian Climate Corps jobs to work in the woods and reduce forest fire risk in Clearwater County, Idaho. I care about poor people in Sumter County, Alabama, fixing their plumbing and replacing failed septic tanks.

That’s what's at stake.

Rural Reading List

For this week’s reading list, we’ve got a couple stories on rural health care, a feature on rural news reporting and funny listicle on rural relocation. Check them out:

Research Results: ‘Aging in Place’ Holds Benefits for Rural Senior Citizens and Neighbors

A Deesmealz interview with rural health care expert and University of Minnesota Associate Professor Carrie Henning-Smith.

Study: Rural Hospitals Vulnerable to Expiring Federal Funding

This one shows how important federal support for rural hospitals can be to keeping the doors open.

This Rural News Start-Up Has Two Reporters and an Editor with no Broadband. Already, It’s Made an Impact.

A Washington Post opinion from Margaret Sullivan, showcasing a rural news startup in Southwest and Southside Virginia.

7 Reasons to Avoid Going Rural to Work From Home

Inc. Magazine’s take on what city people thinking of moving to rural America need to consider. Come for the information, stay for the stereotypes.

Last Thing: Best Story on Democrats vs. Rural Voters

Those of us with theories about the politics of rural voters should drop everything and read this Nick Bowlin essay, “Joke’s on ThemThe Democratic Party Meets Rural America.” I first read the essay last week when it was re-published in The Guardian, and it should be required reading for all journalists or scholars or researchers or politicians looking to understand rural politics.

Bowlin covers the gamut of important issues and breaks through the realities of rural census trends and demographics. My favorite part is how he describes the “rural gentry,” writing:

The rural gentry lack the familiar emblems of extreme wealth; these are not people with luxury penthouses, Wall Street offices, wealth accumulated in global finance, and offshore bank accounts. But on the ground at the town or regional level, they hold substantial economic power and are disproportionately responsible for the political constitution of rural areas. Excluded from the gentry are the vast majority of rural Americans.

That’s it for now, Keep It Rural readers. We’ll be back next week with more on federal budgets and policy in rural.

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