In case you've been living under a rock, there's a presidential election on the horizon ... and rural America is playing a role in it.
Many of the so-called battleground states have large rural populations. Places like Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa have seen an influx of political heavyweights, not to mention TV commercials.
But it's not just presidential politics that are grabbing the attention of rural voters. Congress kicked into high gear this week in a rush to adjourn and get home to campaign. It tackled a corporate tax relief bill that contained $10 billion for the buyout of tobacco quotas. It tried to reconcile differences in the House and Senate versions of 2005 farm program spending. And, in a classic election year standoff, it debated controversial disaster aid funding for farmers overwhelmed by natural disasters.
The Republican-controlled House at midweek approved a measure that would provide $11 billion in hurricane aid ... and nearly $3 billion in farm assistance aimed at producers in election battleground states.
But the House package demands the farm aid be offset by cuts in the Conservation Security Program. That's a move opposed by many in the Senate and a bipartisan group of House members, who represent states ravaged in recent years by drought.
Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-TX,: "How on Earth can you provide disaster assistance to people who have suffered gravely from hurricanes and then deny assistance to people who haven't had any rain for three years."
"(The) budget process has broken down completely. There is no fair way to determine offsets at this time."
Stenholm and his colleagues argued the drought aid should come without offsets since the farm program approved in 2002 has cost up to $15 billion less than federal bean-counters had estimated.
House Republicans initially opposed talk of drought aid before advancing their own $2.9 billion measure and attaching it to the hurricane assistance package. In addition to Stenholm's group, that plan was dismissed by the American Farm Bureau Federation, which said it was unfair to cut benefits paid to some farmers to help finance disaster aid to others.
As for the hurricane aid, there's little doubt that Florida is a battleground state in next month's election. Early this week, the president asked Congress for an additional $691 million to aid victims of hurricanes and other natural disasters. But he has never requested drought aid. Democrats immediately jumped on the issue, accusing the GOP of targeting disaster aid to farmers in battleground states.