President Trump’s Budget is Further Proof Democrats Need to Refocus on Rural America

The Executive Budget proposal released from President Trump demonstrates why Democrats need to refocus on the working class and rural America. Multiple analyses have shown the negative impacts of Trump’s proposal would disproportionately harm rural Americans, low-income workers, and senior citizens. Some of them are the very same individuals who overwhelmingly voted for Trump and have shifted more Republican in recent years.

Following the 2016 election and my reelection defeat, I wrote an open letter to the Democratic National Committee from a rural Democrat. To boil it down, I said national Democrats needed to begin talking with us in rural America and not just about us. That would help change the perception of the party being that of coastal elites. We gained some traction and attention from Democrats across the country mostly those in rural, red states. Sally Boynton Brown was a candidate to chair the DNC and joined us for a discussion about prioritizing rural areas. Then it ended.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen the focus of the party immediately shift to simply resisting Trump. Don’t get me wrong; I believe we need to resist his harmful proposals Congressional Republicans are all too eager to push through. But resistance can’t be all; we need to promote our policy alternatives. What is our solution for workers who have felt forgotten over the years? How do we prove that our party has answers that support rural economic development? Demonstrate to farmers you won’t push erroneous rules that create barriers to their operations. Remind senior citizens you’ve stood by them and their healthcare since the creation of Social Security and Medicare and you’re now determined to alleviate the cost.

Until recent years, agriculture was the powerhouse in the North Dakota economy. Under the Trump budget, The USDA receives a 21% cut which is the third largest reduction to a department in his proposal. This large cut is coupled with harming trade deals to our agricultural industry. As our economy started to shift toward energy, our airports picked up as workers from all over the country came here to work. Rural airports saw gains but needed help. Under Trump’s budget, the Essential Air Service is eliminated. How will that impact Devils Lake or Jamestown? What about the senior citizens who rely on rural transportation to go to their rural hospital that is able to stay open because of Medicaid? Both of which take a hit under the President and Congressional Republican’s initiatives. Public schools, which are sometimes the largest employer in our small towns are diminished in Trump’s proposal to promote private schools usually located in the more populated cities.

This budget houses the depletion of rural America. Democrats must counter it.

It is not just President Trump who believes tax cuts for millionaires, billionaires, and corporations should be subsidized by ripping the food out of low-income Americans’ mouths. North Dakota’s Congressman Kevin Cramer said, “If you are not willing to work, let him not eat.” to justify his vote to cut temporary food assistance for low-income families in 2013. Most of these individuals have worked or are transitioning to new employment. In the North Dakota legislature, Republicans have refused to transfer dollars toward Medicaid to help our seniors, people with disabilities, and nursing homes after it was cut by the Governor. This demonstrates it is not one person in the executive branch in Washington D.C.; it is a part of their platform. The Democrats need a clear plan to show their counterparts are wrong for the people who keep voting for them.

The status quo is not enough either. You cannot just be the party of “no” and replicate what the Republicans did under President Obama for eight years. As my Republican friends like to remind me, Democrats, in general, are not exactly popular right now. Defaulting to simply being anti-Trump won’t be enough. It will take work to regain the trust. Defending programs while finding efficiency is a start.

While they want to gut and dismantle, demonstrate you’re looking to innovate and protect that which is necessary for people to thrive and find the American Dream in all parts of the country.

So, where is the Democrats’ rural plan? How are you going to tell North Dakotans and people in other rural states your ideas are better suited for them? How will you convince them they’re wrong when they think Democrats just want to take money out of their paycheck to pay for something else? How will you prove you are the party of the working man and woman? I’ve said time, and again you cannot wait until 2018, this vision needs to form now. The path to regaining the trust and confidence in rural America is long overdue. The opportunity has presented itself if you’re up to the challenge.