Biden Has Already Done More for Rural America Than Trump Ever Did
KNOXVILLE, Iowa — In 2020, Donald Trump won this state, and its governor and two U.S. senators are Republicans. Just one of Iowa’s four House representatives is a Democrat, and it has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 2012.
Yet there was President Biden with our one Democratic representative, Cindy Axne, in Menlo (population 345), about 45 miles west of Des Moines, to publicize a policy change about ethanol that could help ease gas prices and expand the rural economy. He was there even though he lost Menlo’s county, Guthrie, to Mr. Trump in 2020 by a whopping 36 percentage points.
In under two years in office, President Biden has done more for places like Guthrie County and other parts of rural America than Mr. Trump ever did. The rural economy is stronger, wages are higher and infrastructure projects are popping up all over.
Mr. Biden and his fellow Democrats are responsible for many of the improvements and for bringing back a sense of stability. For the midterms, they should run on these successes — the American Rescue Plan, the infrastructure bill. And they should run on why they have worked: Democrats should run on Democratic values.
Mr. Biden promised to be a president “for all Americans.” He stressed building things and working with Republicans — and he has succeeded, most prominently on the bipartisan infrastructure bill (supported by our Republican senator Chuck Grassley).
Last week, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and Representative Axne noted that $5 billion from the infrastructure bill will reach Iowa and is targeted to help rural areas. The infrastructure bill is so obviously beneficial to the communities that even Republicans who voted against it are taking credit.
Inflation is a big problem here, as it is everywhere. But Mr. Biden is doing what he can to alleviate its impact. In Menlo, he announced that he was temporarily lifting environmental restrictions on the sale of gasoline with 15 percent ethanol, called E15, to help lower fuel costs and our nation’s dependence on foreign oil.
Furthermore, many places far from cities are facing health care crises, with more than 450 rural hospitals in danger of closing. With funds from the American Rescue Plan, the Biden administration program Emergency Rural Health Care Grants will award up to $43 million to benefit 2.2 million people across 22 states.
It’s not all about what the president has done; some of his success is in what he has undone or cleaned up. Last May, Mr. Biden ended the ill-conceived Farmers to Families Food Box Program, which was intended to get provisions to families. Some families benefited, but it was unfortunately, at the height of the pandemic, a boondoggle. A new supply chain had to get the boxes from farmers to food banks that competed directly with local grocery stores. The program was mismanaged and used for political gain.
It would have been much more cost-efficient to expand SNAP payments, which the Biden administration did. A report from the Department of Agriculture shows that federal food benefits have more than twice the impact on rural communities as they do in urban areas.
It was largely overlooked at the time, but Mr. Trump’s trade wars and tariffs inflicted a lot of damage in some rural areas reliant on food exports — so much so that the government made payouts to farmers of about $46 billion. He actually told farmers that they were better off with government payouts, which cost more than the government spends each year on the State Department or children’s health insurance, than selling overseas.
Every farmer I know would rather have markets than payments. Record high commodity prices under President Biden have weaned farmers off government support. The Biden administration has reduced some tariffs, though many farmers would like it to be more aggressive, especially with China and other countries in the Indo-Pacific.
And the Biden administration recently said that it intends to provide $1 billion in American Rescue Plan funds to help independent meat producers be more competitive. This will help make our food supply more resilient, addressing problems exposed at the height of the pandemic.
So will what President Biden has done for so many rural Americans improve the electoral fortunes of Democrats in places like Iowa? When it comes to the midterms, the problem is not really about Mr. Biden himself but about long-running trends, and the only way to alter those trends is to change the perception of Democrats on the national level.
This year, much of it will depend on what Democrats do before November, and how they engage. As I said, they should celebrate victories — like the American Rescue Plan, which supported a wave of spending on construction projects and programs across America. Too often, Democrats leave it to Republicans to set the agenda and frame issues, or blame conservative media.
Democrats should be proud of what the party has been and is — the party of Social Security, Medicare and Obamacare, of greater opportunity for more and more Americans — and what it is and what it stands for, and their values: for smart government being part of the solution, not the problem; for health care as a right, not a privilege; for clean water and air and effective climate solutions; for taxation that doesn’t favor the rich; for equal opportunity for all; for life chances and opportunities that aren’t determined by one’s ZIP code, race, gender, faith, sexual orientation or gender identity.
These are Democratic values. They can play everywhere, including in rural America. Run on those.