It was a week of political setbacks on Capitol Hill for the proposed budget of President Bush. And the setbacks came from surprising quarters.
At midweek, moderate Republicans in the Senate banded with Democrats to strip much of the proposed savings outlined in the president's $2.6 trillion budget. The narrow vote removed proposed cuts to Medicare, community development and school aid programs. Republicans in the House were NOT amused, and vowed to try and keep all spending cuts intact when the bill reaches conference committee.
Rural lawmakers, too, are troubled by the budget. Their efforts this week to save nearly $3 billion in proposed cuts for agriculture were NOT successful. Even so, they continue to protest White House plans to trim farm spending.
Rep. Stephanie Herseth,(D)South Dakota:"When we look at how rural America is treated in this budget, we know we can do better."
According to the Democrats, the promises of the 2002 farm bill are not protected by the president's proposed budget. Under that plan, agriculture funding takes one of the biggest hits, with a net reduction of $5.7 billion over the next 10 years. Other recommended cuts include reducing crop insurance and loan deficiency payments, and cutting back on conservation programs.
Rep. Bob Etheridge,(D)North Carolina:"This truly is a betrayal of rural America and the thousands of farm families that believed in 2002 that they had a commitment from Congress and the president."
Members of the Democratic Rural Working Group say singling out rural America is bad for already struggling communities. Most small towns, they say, face poverty, unemployment, and housing problems at rates similar to the nation's big cities. The Democrats claim the president's budget slashes critical assistance for rural economic development, as well as rural health and education spending.
Rep. Mike Ross,(D)Arkansas: "I made a pledge to the people I represent. And, that's why I will never vote to replace programs that matter to rural America with more funding and tax cuts for the wealthiest people in the country --most of who do not live in rural America."
In the Republican-led Senate, the hope also is to reduce the record federal deficit by decreasing domestic spending. At the same time, GOP lawmakers want to increase spending on defense and security programs, and enact $106 billion in tax cuts over the next five years. They argue the plan will stop spending that exceeds budget limits, and will preserve what they consider widely supported tax cuts.