The National Rural Assembly made policy recommendations on a range of issues, but offerings from both presidential campaigns were a bit watery.">
Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) spoke on behalf of presidential candidate John McCain at a meeting of the national Rural Assembly and Stand Up for Rural America, Tuesday, June 17, in Washington, D.C.
Photo: Shawn Poynter
Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama sent surrogates to address the 500 people who met in Washington, D.C., this week at the National Rural Assembly. And while the Assembly has been all about honing a specific rural agenda for the first 100 days of the next administration, neither the Republican nor the Democratic campaign was interested in getting too precise about programs, issues or policies.
This is the second meeting of the Assembly, and over the last year organizers of the event have been busy identifying the “critical policy needs and opportunities for rural America.” The Assembly has written a “rural compact," an extensive list of policy recommendations. The Assembly is funded by the W. K. Kellogg, Ford and Annie E. Casey foundations and guided by a group of non-profit organizations.
Tuesday, the Assembly heard a long list of policy recommendations developed over the last year. There were recommendations for improving rural health care, stimulating the economy and saving rural schools. The detail of the Assembly’s work, however, wasn’t matched by the two presidential campaigns.
The McCain camp was represented by Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback. Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota spoke for Obama. It is early in the campaign, of course, and clearly Brownback and Daschle were anxious not to create news. (Brownback may have failed in that mission by saying, “I’ve heard him (McCain) talk about serving for one term”¦But I don’t announce that for the campaign.”)
Brownback said he would be “pitching” the McCain campaign several ideas, including support for a New Homestead Act that would grant tax credits to those who move to rural counties that have lost population over the last 20 years. (The senator said McCain had not yet agreed to support this proposal.) Brownback said that he (though not necessarily McCain) supported student loan credits of up to 50% for college graduates who return to rural areas, as well as targeted and selective tax cuts. He proposed reforming the speculative nature of agricultural markets. Brownback also suggested that America needs automobiles that will burn gasoline, methanol, ethanol, or mixtures of those fuels dispensed through blender-type pumps that can allow consumers to choose their own fuel mixture. “Americans need as many options as we can get,” Brownback said.
A former state agriculture commissioner and the son of a Kansas farmer, Brownback agreed that a “presidential campaign is where we can highlight rural issues.” The Republican preached bipartisanship: “This is an opportunity for us to come together,” he said.
Tom Daschle pledged Barack Obama’s support for health care availability for all Americans. The South Dakotan also reiterated Sen. Obama’s determination that 25 percent of the nation’s energy supply would come from renewable sources by 2025. In response to a question about the rapid consolidation of meatpacking firms, Daschle said that Barack Obama supports full and complete antitrust reform and enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act for open and transparent markets. Ranchers have asked for federal intervention to block mergers of meatpacking companies.
Daschle, too, promoted a more bipartisan attitude in Congress. “We’ve got to put the dialogue back” in Washington, D.C., he said. “And I believe more than anything that Barack Obama has that capability.”
Perhaps the sharpest disagreement between Brownback and Daschle was over the use of budget “earmarks.” McCain has promised to veto any bill containing instructions directing federal funds to specific projects. Brownback noted that he had used these so-called earmarks to direct money to rural communities. (“I’ve used earmarks and I publicize “˜em,” he said.) But the McCain representative said his candidate opposed earmarks because McCain believed they damage “people’s confidence in government.”
Daschle, meanwhile, said that earmarks gave senators and representatives “an ability to weigh in on priorities.” Listing a half-dozen rural projects paid for by earmarks, he told the gathering, “Those are investments that ought to be acknowledged and fought for.”