Rural America Would Benefit from Bipartisan Senate Budget Deal

Investment in Rural America is a big part of the bipartisan budget deal reached today in the Senate. The compromise would allow the Pentagon and other agencies to do some longer-term planning, for change – a luxury not afforded the federal government since the Trump administration took office.

The only question now is will House Republicans and the White House allow this deal, which includes fully repealing the funding-limiting domestic sequester caps, avoids another government shutdown, and would lift the federal debt ceiling through March 2019, a move urged by Treasury officials, who fear running out of money next month because of the GOP tax cuts.

The budget agreement was announced a day after Trump said, “If we have to shut it down because the Democrats don’t want safety, and unrelated but still related, they don’t want to take care of our military, then shut it down. We’ll go with another shutdown.”

Clearly the Democrats care about safety and the Pentagon with this deal. Both sides agreed $160 billion would go to the Pentagon and it leaves for another day the debate on immigration issues.

Along with the Defense funding, Democratic negotiators pressed for $131 billion in domestic investment, a significant chunk of which will directly benefit Rural Americans. The deal includes:

  • $90 billion in overdue disaster aid for hurricane-ravaged Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, and areas hit by Western wildfires
  • $20 billion for existing infrastructure programs, Rural Broadband, Rural Water and Wastewater, roads and highways, clean and safe drinking water, and energy infrastructure
  • $6 billion to fight the opioid and mental health crises that have become an epidemic in Rural States
  • $4 billion for Veterans Hospitals and clinics
  • $5.8 billion for the Child Care Development Block Grant program
  • $4 billion to help make college more affordable, including programs that help police officers, teachers, and firefighters
  • $2 billion for critical research at the National Institutes of Health amid this deadly flu outbreak

Now the deal is in hands of House Republicans and the White House. Let your lawmakers know they should do the deal and avoid another government shutdown.

In the Can’t Make This Stuff Up Department: U.S. Will Need to Borrow Almost $1 Trillion from China and Others This Year to Pay for Tax Cuts

The plan seemed simple enough: first, ram through a redistribution of wealth scheme in favor of corporations and the richest Americans that would add more than $1 trillion to the federal deficit; secondly, come up with the excuse that social security, Medicare, Medicaid, and healthcare have to be cut to pay for the GOP tax cuts.

The sham embraced by GOP Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin (so out-of-touch that he celebrated $1.50 a week pay raise for a school secretary, before trying to hide the fact that he did) was a page right out of the playbook of his patrons, the Koch brothers and others. Sensing a backlash from working- and middle-class voters in Rural States that depend on those programs, however, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said forget that; it’s a bad idea in an election year where Republicans are running for the door rather than facing the wrath of voters in November.

As McConnell knows very well from voters in his home state, most Americans everywhere, including working- and middle-class Rural Americans, want entitlements expanded, not cut. So instead of losing even more support from Americans, McConnell told Republicans lets do infrastructure repairs this year. Now as we recently reported that plan, primarily financed by forcing state and local governments to raise taxes and selling public roads, bridges and waterways to private companies that would charge tolls for their use, appears to be on life support, if not already declared dead on arrival.

Now Republicans are stuck with a very weak election-year agenda. Adding to Republican turmoil, it has become quite transparent to everyone that their coveted tax cuts grossly favor the rich and corporations over Main Street America. It’s at the point that those same Koch brothers have to spend $20 million on a campaign this year to try to make the tax giveaways look better than they really are.

To make matters even worse, Wall Street’s celebration of the tax cuts seems to be over, with investors not showing a lot of faith in the current economic climate at the moment. Trump can now boast of presiding over the worst closing point decline on record for the Dow.

It means we’re still stuck with the bill, but no worries, future generations will pick up the tab, right? Nope, according to the Treasury Department and the Congressional Budget Office, China and other debt investors will have pay the bill this year in order to keep the U.S. from defaulting on its loans.

Thanks to the GOP tax giveaways, the federal government is getting ready to borrow almost $1 trillion in 2018, an increase of 84% from last year. So in the end, yes, the Republicans are kicking a massive debt down the road. Is that how we make America great again? Or is that really just more of the same from a party that can’t seem to help but break the bank every time it occupies the White House?

GOP Infrastructure Plan: State & Local Tax Hikes; Toll Roads & Bridges

Are you ready for private toll roads and bridges in West Virginia and Maine? How about state and local tax hikes in Mississippi and New Hampshire? Get ready for it, because that is exactly what Rural States from Georgia to Idaho can expect if the Trump infrastructure plan comes to fruition.

Oh, the White House talks a great game, promising that a quarter of its $1.5 trillion “plan” to repair bridges, repave roads, buttress dams, dredge waterways and renovate water pipes will be dedicated to Rural America. What the Trump administration doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about is the fact that its formula only calls for putting up about 20% of the cash to rebuild a crumbling America.

The Trump scheme calls for state and local governments to raise taxes and private contractors to take control of roads, bridges, and waterways and charge tolls for their use by American consumers.

A more traditional infrastructure blueprint would have the federal government putting up 80% of the money and states come up with the remaining 20%. We can thank the GOP tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest Americans for making it virtually impossible for Uncle Sam to do his job and maintain the vital American infrastructure.

As CEO Joel Moser of infrastructure finance and privately equity company Aquamarine Investment Partners, points out in Forbes, state, and local lawmakers would be hard-pressed to raise taxes after the GOP tax scam just all but wiped out the federal deduction for state and local taxes.

“By proposing less federal money, Trump is playing a shell game, pushing the responsibility to raise taxes to governors and mayors, and right after signing a tax bill that eliminates the deductibility of state and local taxes, making it just about impossible to raise taxes. He gets to claim fiscal purity on this issue and pass the blame to others—because the problem will not get fixed,” Moser writes.

It gets worse. Trump’s proposal is based on ”competitive grants” that would greatly favor wealthy East and Coast “Blue States” over Rural “Red States,” meaning Rural Areas would likely be left behind once again by the Trump administration.

“There are a bunch of us that want to work on infrastructure, but it can’t be overly reliant on tolls from blue areas of the country and leave red areas of the country behind,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO).

‎We’re going to be hearing an awful lot about how the GOP tax cut giveaway to their fat cat friends on Wall Street and corporate boardrooms have crippled services and lifestyles for the vast majority of Americans. Just this week the Congressional Budget Office warned that the federal government is once again going to have to raise the debt ceiling because federal revenue already is slowing to trickle thanks to the GOP tax cuts.

Raising the debt ceiling means selling more debt to buyers like China for the federal government to pay its bills. But what it really means is American infrastructure is going to continue to crumble, —and Rural States will take the biggest hit of all.

The State of Rural America is Strong But Vulnerable

The State of Rural America is strong because of the people and local institutions that allow us to sustain our vital agrarian-based communities. The strength of Rural America can be found in our profound and productive ability to feed the world.

The State of Rural America is threatened, however, by the false promises from current leaders who seek to divide us through manipulation and by pitting neighbor against neighbor, for political gain. It’s an outrage.

On issue after issue, Rural Voters are offered only meaningless words, as opposed to actions that ensure our way of life is maintained and protected. There is a better deal for Rural Americans, but in order to achieve it, we must elect officials who we can trust to fight for our jobs and way of life.

  • The Rural Economy needs trade deals that protect our farming, ranching and fishing industries, and ensures the best prices are paid for American grown and harvested produce, meats, fish and dairy products. The current administration is pursuing a trade policy that will leave Rural Agriculture short-changed while filling the pockets of Wall Street and corporate executives.
  • Rural Infrastructure needs to be maintained to ensure our goods and services are delivered to market without interruption. The safety and well being of our families and neighbors should not depend on the mood of lawmakers. After delivering on tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest Americans, the current leadership now intends to put forward a plan that forces the Rural States to raise taxes and fees in order to repair and renovate our streets, roads, bridges, dams and buildings.
  • We require a healthcare strategy that guarantees and expands coverage for working- and middle-class Rural Americans and halts the epidemic of Rural Hospitals closing. Demonizing our health care coverage for partisan political gain hurts us all, particularly Rural Children and Rural Seniors. The current leadership’s intentional destruction of the American health care system must end.
  • Rural America needs and deserves the same dependable high-speed Internet and broadband connectivity that our fellow Americans in urban and suburban America receives. Instead, our leaders have adopted a policy that takes away net neutrality from Rural America, hurting our small businesses, entrepreneurs, consumers, and schools while favoring giant telecommunications corporations who intend to
  • We need a farm bill that levels the playing field for family farms and locally grown and harvested produce, meats, fish and dairy products. The current leadership must not be allowed to favor Factory Farms and Agribusiness over Family Farms.
  • Governments and business must work together to create incentives and programs that end the Rural Brain Drain. Our young people need to feel confident and secure that they can live in work in the communities they call home. We must encourage our young people to see and feel the world, whether it is through education, the military, individual adventure or some combination. We must ensure, however, that they have a reason to bring back their knowledge and experience to revitalize and grow our Local Communities while guaranteeing that they have a future in Rural America.
  • The same goes for Rural Women and our at-risk neighbors who can contribute mightily to our Rural Communities. There must be private-public partnerships that provide economic empowerment opportunities in Rural America.
  • It’s important for our leaders to get their priorities straight. A good place to start is not choosing to attack institutions that Rural Americans depend on to keep America safe, like the FBI and CIA. We choose Team USA always over hostile governments, like the Russians or North Koreans.
  • We must demand an end to the current administration’s war on state and local rule. The voters and local leaders must be allowed to pass their own laws that fit the will of their people, as long as those laws do not hurt and threaten the people in other communities and areas. Where state and local laws, ordinances, and rules are clear, the current slate of federal officials must not be allowed to come in and impose their will just to satisfy their own out-of-touch, self-serving values, and profit-making schemes.
  • In order to ensure our voices in Rural America are not muzzled, we must seek the easiest path to voter registration and the simplest ways to cast a ballot. We must reject voter suppression and intimidation, and take on those who would allow outside forces and foreign governments to influence and tamper with American Democracy.

To preserve our way of life, our government must be held to a higher standard. We should not allow ourselves to be tricked into repeatedly getting intentionally diverted away from expecting elected officials keep their word on issues that matter to how we live, eat, breath and enjoy life.

The State of Rural America is Strong, but we should not be neglected or find ourselves under assault by the powers that be in Washington.

For Rural Votes, 2017 was a Groundbreaking Year Despite the Opposition

It’s been a strange, but energizing year. Everyday our resolve to fight for the rights and lifestyle of Rural America grows stronger. Our motivation is winning the war on hard working- and middle-class Rural Americans and winning the war on truth and justice.

Rural America is under assault by lawless leadership and their allies on important issues like tax fairness, quality affordable healthcare for children and adults, fair wages, family farms, good schools and colleges, incentives for small businesses expansion and equal Internet and broadband access.

Taking a look back at 2017, we all have come together to fight this battle of a lifetime for the future of America. Our efforts broke new ground in enlightening Rural Americans to the reality of a systematic bait-and-switch campaign of unkept promises by the ruling party in Washington and many Rural Governments. We should all be proud of the scorecard.

  • We won the fight to protect the core of our health care coverage, increasing access for everyone and protecting Rural Americans who rely on Medicare and Medicaid. The victory gave more Rural Hospitals a better chance of keeping their doors open. Furthermore, a successful statewide ballot initiative in Rural Maine ushered in a first-ever voter-driven demand to expand affordable, quality health care coverage. The battle to protect healthcare is a model for activating, energizing and empowering activists from the grassroots level to the state capitals to Washington, DC.
  • We elected key lawmakers who successfully ran campaigns that focused on Rural Values and Priorities in critical races in Alabama and Virginia. In Alabama, we saw a return to the core value that “all politics is local,” allowing a race in that venerable Rural State to be run for its people, not for special interests and their singular causes. The incoming Virginia governor grew up on the Rural Eastern Shore. He talked about reversing the underinvestment in job creation needed to revitalize Rural Virginia — an example of how Rural America is influencing the national conversation from the local level.
  • Even where victory in elections escaped us, the battles were noble and hard fought. In four special House elections, Democrats outperformed Republicans in races that should have not even been close, yet they were all contested. Much was learned.
  • Our organization made strides this year in promoting voter registration, and we were steadfast in countering systematic voter suppression and intimidation that plagues Rural America. We worked to keep American elections American. We supported and enhanced get out the vote efforts at every level. Again, much was learned.
  • Across the country, we flatly rejected the forces of hate and bigotry that would seek to divide Rural Americans for the sake of their own narrow-minded and intolerant agendas. Righteous Rural Americans stood up and were counted among those who embraced inclusion, equality, harmony and good citizenship.

The Republicans trumpet the appointment of conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court as one of its crowning achievements of 2017, but we will never forgot that it was a seat stolen by GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell from a sitting Democratic leader for purely partisan gain. It was a gift to historians who will forever remember McConnell as a dishonest broker because of that partisan stunt.

While the Republican leadership branded itself as a do-nothing tribe willing to look the other way from charges and accusations brought against its members, from top to bottom, Democrats proved to be committed to dealing harshly with ethics violators among their own members.

Rural Americans are steadily becoming aware that they bought into a colossal lie in the 2016 elections. What Rural Voters got in return in 2017 was not what they paid for.

The promise for government of the people, by the people, for the people made by President Lincoln at Gettysburg reminds us now, as it did then, that our strength is in unity and prosperity for all of America. Our resolve in the fight to save Rural America grows stronger each day.

Roy Moore Won’t Do a Darn Thing to Fix Alabama’s Opioid Crisis

For too long the ruling party in Alabama has ignored the opioid crisis that is literally killing Rural Alabamians. Unless there is a political shake up, Alabama will likely remain atop the list of states with the worst opioid problem in the country.

Republicans like Roy Moore are the problem, refusing to see that Big Pharma, and not the misguided and over-hyped drug war blame game excuses, is going unpunished for the opioid epidemic in Alabama. “Opioids are not the only drug problem we have,” the out-of-touch Moore was quoted as saying recently in the Montgomery Advertiser.

Fortunately, at least two Alabama hospitals aren’t waiting for the state’s Republican leadership to step and do the right thing. Mobile-based Infirmary Health Hospitals Inc., and Monroe County Healthcare Authority this week joined a Mississippi-led class-action lawsuit taking aim at Big Pharma for allegedly pushing and profiteering from their highly addictive drugs.

Big Pharma hires 18 lobbyists on average every year to press the Alabama marketplace into buying and arguably over-prescribing their opioids. With high pressure lobbying like that it’s no surprise that Alabama has the most prescription opioid use in the nation.

The individual statistics for Alabama opioid use are shocking, according to recent statistics compiled by the Joint Economic Committee in Congress. For example, in 2015, 736 people died from drug overdoses in Alabama, compared to 122 people in significantly less populous Alaska. Doctors in Alabama prescribe 142.9 opioid pain relievers per 100 persons, compared to the national rate of 82.5 per 100 persons.

In addition, four of the 15 cities in the United States most plagued by the opioid epidemic are in Alabama, according to a separate private study.

The opioid crisis in Alabama and throughout Rural America will only get worse if the Republicans in Washington are allowed to pass Trumpcare, which of course we are seeing is JunkCare at best, and NoCare in the case of the most vulnerable among us. Alabama can’t afford seeing that happen. We need smart votes in Washington. Roy Moore won’t help with that.

GOP Cost Rural Alabama $14.4 Billion; 30,000 Jobs; Better Healthcare

Alabama has the Republican leadership to thank for the state losing out on $14.4 billion in federal money that is available by law to provide mostly Rural American residents with health insurance coverage. The number of Alabamians denied affordable healthcare is approaching half a million people.

Now we’ve learned Republican have plans next year to try to slash healthcare even more for Rural Alabama.

Even Alabama’s peer states, like Arkansas, Louisiana and Kentucky have welcomed the federal money to expand health care coverage into their Rural Communities. States like Alabama that allow politicians to reject to the federal expansion are doing an injustice to its Rural Communities.

Even Alabama’s peer states, like Arkansas, Louisiana and Kentucky have welcomed the federal money to expand health care coverage into their Rural Communities. States like Alabama that allow politicians to reject to the federal expansion are doing an injustice to its Rural Communities.

“We must ensure that quality health care is available not only in our cities, but in rural areas as well. As pointed out recently by U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, ‘Alabama’s rural hospitals have been struggling for years, largely due to inadequate reimbursements, low volume and high operating costs,’” explained Doug Jones, who is working to bring expanded health care to Alabama.

The problem for Alabama isn’t just the loss of federal funds for coverage. The problem extends to Rural Hospitals in Alabama that face closing without increased revenue. The federal money would go a long toward propping up Rural Hospitals in Alabama.

“Since 2010, five rural hospitals have closed in Alabama, leaving residents without local care. As Rep. Sewell notes, ‘We need more robust Medicaid funding in Alabama if our rural hospitals are to survive,’” Jones concluded.

On top of the lost revenue, the Republicans decision to decline the federal aide is costing Alabama an estimated 30,000 new jobs that would be created by the increased healthcare coverage. Alabama deserves a better deal than that.

Graphic: Center for Rural Affairs

 

GOP Plans to Gut Medicare & Social Security if Moore Wins in Alabama UPDATED

Alabama senior citizens and retirees should brace for devastating Republican cuts to their Medicare coverage and Social Security benefits if Roy Moore prevails in Tuesday’s special Senate election.

It’s a poorly disguised two-part GOP plot: first pass massive permanent tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest Americans, and then play the phony deficit hawk game, arguing Medicare and Social Security must be gutted to pay for the $1.5 trillion debt-increasing GOP revenue giveaway.

UPDATE: It’s not speculation; it’s happening. Just hours after we posted this item, GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan said on the record the plan is to pay for the corporate tax cuts by taking a knife to programs that are essential to Alabama seniors, retirees and other Rural Americans.

The declaration by Ryan likely kills any hope the Republicans next goal will be to keep a campaign promise to pass a much-needed infrastructure repair jobs creation bill. Democrats and their allies are already promising they won’t let Republicans get away with it without a fight.

The whole scheme is a one-two punch to working- and middle-class Americans, particularly those of us in Rural America. There is little doubt the increasingly unreliable Moore is ready to jump on that bandwagon if elected.

This is a precise scenario. How so? Because one thing we know for sure is the Republicans in Congress have been trying all year to wipe out Medicaid, and if they win on Medicaid they surely plan to try to double-down and go after Medicare and Social Security.

Another reason why we know the GOP will slash Medicare and Social Security is because the Republican tax cuts will never meet the promise of paying for themselves, as every credible economist and government budget analysis shows.

A Moore-backed GOP plan to shrink Medicare and Social Security would affect one-fifth of Alabama residents. Not only would the quality of life diminish for approximately 4.8 million Alabamian senior citizens, but those cuts would take 10s of millions of dollars out of the Alabama economy.

That’s a lousy deal for Alabama, but it won’t happen if Moore isn’t elected. The Republicans need Moore’s vote to decimate Medicare and Social Security.

Alabama Senate GOP Write-in Race is a Replay of the Iron Bowl UPDATED

There is a lot of speculation throughout Alabama about who Republican Senator Richard Shelby wrote in as his vote for senator in next week’s special election.

Casting an absentee ballot late last month, all Shelby would say is he wrote in the name of a “distinguished Republican.” Guesses as to who won Shelby’s vote range from ex-Sen. Jeff Sessions to interim Sen. Luther Strange. Shelby may have even cast a vote for himself, rather than voting for the embattled and increasingly unpopular Roy Moore.

UPDATE: Shelby doubled down the last Sunday before the election, going on national television to urge Alabama Republicans to cast write-in votes instead of voting for Moore. “I’d rather see the Republican win, but I’d hope that Republican would be a write-in,” Shelby said. “I didn’t vote for Roy Moore. I wouldn’t vote for Roy Moore. I think the Republican Party can do better.”

Shelby cast his write-in vote before retired Marine Col. Lee Busby of Tuscaloosa formally announced his write-in campaign. Busby is an interesting Republican voter with deep connections to the Trump White House. He once served as chief of staff to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, himself a retired four-star general.

Shelby isn’t alone. Republicans throughout Alabama have been requesting information from state and local officials on how to cast a write-in ballot in next Tuesday’s election. The onslaught of requests even prompted Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, himself a Republican, to issue a special release with instructions for how to cast a write-in ballot.

UPDATE: The write-in vote wave opposing Moore got a big boost down the stretch with a major Alabama television advertising buy from a conservative organization. The ads focus on Christian and family values.

While most observers focus on which GOP politicians will pick up the most write-in votes, many Republicans will likely go another route, choosing iconic Alabamians as their candidate. GOP fans of Alabama’s favorite fall pastime are girding for an Iron Bowl fight off the gridiron. Alabama coach Nick Saban, who routinely picks up write-in votes in everything from student government to presidential elections, may turn out to be the choice of most Republicans. There even have been calls for Saban to seek the Senate seat. However, it’s worth pointing out that with Gus Malzahn and his Auburn Tigers handily defeating Alabama in this year’s Iron Bowl, he might just give Saban a run for the money in the Senate write-in sweepstakes.

It should surprise no one if one or both of prominent football coaches top the write-in ticket.

UPDATE: Interestingly, it’s Mac Watson of Auburn who at the moment is generating the most social media attention for his GOP Senate write-in campaign, according to an analysis performed at the request of Rural Votes by a top social media data scientist. The conservative businessman has a common sense agenda. Watson contends that since a low-paid worker is held to high standards, a well-paid U.S. senator should be expected to uphold a moral code as well. Moore fails that smell test, he contends.

A Republican political operative, who has worked at the highest levels of statewide elections in Alabama, said the write-in campaign is likely bigger than people think. “This is an election that the voters might not be comfortable admitting how they plan to vote to pollsters…Alabama is a God-fearing state, so you have to expect some voters want an alternative to Moore,” the political operative said, asking to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal.

Unlike the Republicans, Democrats don’t have a write-in candidate.

Debt-Bloating Tax Cut End-Game Reveals GOP Deficit Hawks as Frauds

You know how we can tell the GOP corporate tax scheme is a ruse? Too many so-called conservatives squawked when the few Republican deficit hawks still true to their core fiscal doctrine came up with a way to try to keep the tax cuts from adding another $1.4 trillion to the $20 trillion national debt.

A handful of senators, led by Bob Corker (R-TN), Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and James Lankford (R-OK), offered up a doomed “trigger” to prevent the tax cuts from increasing the national debt. Simply put, tax increases would be triggered if federal revenue fell short of a specified threshold as a result of the corporate tax cuts.

The Senate parliamentarian ruled out a trigger on procedural grounds, but it’s still worth asking the question why would anyone be opposed to a deficit-avoiding mechanism? The Republicans keep telling us their corporate tax plan is going to increase growth and jobs and will pay for itself. What’s the problem then? Could it be that maybe the Republicans aren’t telling us the truth and their tax plan is really a scam that is going to blow up the federal debt?

Opponents of the trigger, like the Koch brothers political machine, claim it’s a bad idea because a downturn in the economy could set off tax increases. But again, the Republicans insist their corporate tax cuts are supposed to be a glorious trickle down stimulus for the economy, so what’s the problem? We won’t have an economic downturn, right Republicans?

It gets worse, believe it or not. Turns out the tax cutters have many weak arguments. Republicans asked congressional budget analysts to create a deficit model with a magic process called “dynamic scoring” to analyze the effect of the tax cuts on the national debt. Even that optimistic ploy failed, and the best tax analysts could come up with is the national debt increasing by $1 trillion as a result of the tax cuts.

And that’s why Corker and the diminishing cast of deficit hawks know there must be a deficit trigger, or some other means to keep the corporate tax cuts from exploding the deficit.

As far as the GOP promises that their massive tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest among us will make more money than they will cost, only in Washington could we have a balance sheet that contends cutting revenue will increase revenue.

The Democrats are steering clear of the GOP tax con primarily for one simple reason: it doesn’t include significant, permanent tax cuts for working- and middle-class Americans. In some cases it will lead to tax increases for those demographic groups. It’s pretty clear what the Republicans think of us, given that the majority of our 60 million Rural Americans are working- and middle-class.