House Democrats outlined a series of priorities for rural America on Friday, pledging to “put our families and communities first” as they labor to end 10 years in the minority.
“We can balance the budget ... and protect the country without raiding Social Security or cutting farm programs, rural education, transportation, rural development and small business loans,” members of the party’s Rural Working Group said in a statement released at a news conference.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who represents a San Francisco-area district, did not attend the session. But she issued a statement of support saying, “We are making revitalizing rural America a critical part of the Democratic agenda.” Aides said the priorities outlined by several rural Democrats under the slogan of “Voice of the Heartland” had the support of the caucus as a whole.
At their news conference, the group pledged to stand for “commonsense spending”; work to create jobs and better trade policies; and invest in infrastructure such as rural roads and sewer systems. Other priorities included steps to strengthen education, health care and housing and to improve funding for veterans programs.
“Small town and rural America is at the forefront of defending our freedoms,” said Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo.
The rural priorities are largely rhetorical. “This is not legislation,” said Rep. Charles Stenholm, a conservative Texas Democrat.
In that regard, it was a contrast to a $125 billion, 10-year American Jobs Plan that Pelosi and other Democrats unveiled earlier this week.
That proposal outlined tax cuts and spending increases designed to create new employment while helping workers harmed by the global economy. Democrats proposed to pay for their plan by repealing tax breaks that go to companies moving production offshore.
Even so, the decision by Democrats to promote their intentions reflects a belief that the road to a House majority runs through rural America.
Party strategists said they have identified 15 or more congressional districts in at least partially rural areas where they hope Democrats can compete this fall.
Republicans responded with sarcasm to Democratic claims of potential gains in such areas.
“I’m sure they’ll trot out their major accomplishments like voting against corn and soybean farmers today and voting against the tobacco buyout,” said Carl Forti, a spokesman for the GOP congressional campaign committee.
Referring to tax bill
Forti said he was referring to a complex tax bill that cleared the House on Thursday. It passed largely on the strength of GOP votes, with 48 Democrats in favor and 154 opposed.
In recent years Republicans have won numerous rural districts formerly held by Democrats, in part by emphasizing issues such as abortion, gun control and gay rights.
Democratic strategists maintain such issues may be trumped by economic concerns this fall, given lost jobs and polling that indicates Americans are pessimistic about the future.
Stenholm, a member of a group of conservative Democrats known as Blue Dogs, said the organization is slowly expanding.
“As the Blue Dogs are expanding you notice (they) are replacing Republicans,” he said.
“That’s the battle lines. There are some differences and you’re going to see some of them articulated” as the congressional session progresses, he said.