It may be a good thing Kent Conrad wasn't one of George W. Bush's professors while he was an undergraduate at Yale University. If he had been, the future president might not have finished college, and the rest, as they say, would be history.
Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee since Democrats won control of Congress last November, was one of several senators who issued a “Rural Report Card” on the president's fiscal 2008 budget.
The report card gave the president a failing grade on the overall proposal, including especially bad marks for its lack of funding for programs Conrad says are important for rural America.
“The president's budget has again failed rural America,” said Conrad, who was joined in the report card by senators from several rural states. “It cuts deepest at programs that are vital to rural families. While it is essential to reduce the deficit, the burden shouldn't fall disproportionately on the backs of rural America.”
Conrad was particularly concerned about its 94-percent reduction in the federal Community-Oriented Policing Services program, which has helped fight the methamphetamine crisis in rural states like his own North Dakota.
He also promised to continue to try to pass legislation to help farmers hurt by disasters that have stretched over three years in different parts of the country, including the recent freezes and blizzards in California and Colorado.
Arkansas' Blanche Lincoln released a more detailed look at the administration budget in her role as chair of rural outreach for the Senate Democratic Caucus. She highlighted seven areas where it cuts deep into quality of life issues.
Besides reductions in a number of health care programs for senior citizens and rural hospitals, the president proposes to cut funding for Medicare and Medicaid by $78 billion and charge premiums for some services, according to Lincoln.
Other cuts: Funding for education, economic development and housing, rural law enforcement, agriculture (commodity programs and food stamps), Social Security and veterans programs, the latter receiving half the funding the Veterans Administration says it needs to meet the demands from a growing number of troops returning home.
“Reducing record deficits is a goal we share, but it should not rest disproportionately on the backs of rural America,” said Lincoln. “By forcing some to shoulder this national burden and not others, this budget reflects at best an unfair and misguided approach to our spending priorities.”
Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns was defending the administration's farm bill at a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing, but he might have been talking about the budget plan as well. “Our guiding principals are that the new law be more predictable, more equitable, better able to withstand challenge and wisely and effectively spending taxpayer dollars.”
Congress will get to sort out which of those versions is closer to the truth between now and April when it is supposed to pass a budget resolution and give the president a final grade on his budget.