WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump will use his budget rollout next week to propose spending billions on health care, infrastructure, business loans and internet access in rural America, a key part of his constituency as he seeks reelection in November.
"Many Americans living in rural communities continue to face barriers that prevent them from attaining the quality of life they deserve," said a Trump budget document provided to USA TODAY.
The administration formally proposes its Fiscal Year 2021 budget on Monday, though friction with Congress and election-year politics may make this plan more contentious than most.
Still, budgets are as much about priorities and politics as governance.
Trump is expected to make a major appeal to rural voters in his reelection campaign, especially as it relates to farmers in key states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Democrats, including those running for president, say that Trump's economic policies – including tariffs, tax cuts, and regulation reductions – favor the wealthy at the expense of farmers and other residents of rural America.
Discussing the rural plan on condition of anonymity because the budget has not yet been released, officials pointed to several proposals in the budget, including:
– A $1.5 billion loan level for rural business and industry guaranteed loans; $8.9 billion in farm loans; and $25 billion for a new "Revitalizing Rural America" grant program to help areas with broadband, transportation, water and road and bridge projects.
– $614 million in funding for water and wastewater grants and loans, and $5.5 billion in rural electric loans.
– $250 million for a Department of Agriculture Rural e-Connectivity "ReConnect" pilot program, $690 million in loans to finance broadband infrastructure deployment of rural telecommunication facilities, and $30 million for the "Community Connect grant program" that targets remote areas.
– Funding for health care programs that include what the budget plan calls "telemedicine services," rural health clinics, and new emergency hospitals. The proposed budget will also call for the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide more programs in rural areas.
– $13.5 million for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Indian Education to expand broadband access in areas that are home to Native Americans.
It is difficult to put a price tag on Trump's "rural program," officials said. Some proposals are additions to existing programs, some are part of mandatory spending, and some could be applied to urban and suburban areas as well.
Also, there is no way these plans will pass Congress intact, certainly not in an election year and with Democrats controlling the House.
These days, Congress doesn't pass annual budgets per se. They approve a series of temporary spending plans to keep the government funded.
Trump's budget plan will also emphasize items like border security, national defense, job training, and economic development programs designed to enhance what the Trump administration calls "American Competitiveness."
Democratic presidential candidates are also pursuing rural votes. In states like Iowa and elsewhere, they have said that Trump's policies have been bad for rural America, particularly farmers. They have focused on tariffs on China and other countries that have raised the prices of products and make it harder for U.S. farmers to sell goods overseas.
Former Iowa Lt. Gov. Patty Judge, a Democrat co-founder of the organization Focus on Rural America, said Trump's overall economic approach has made it harder for rural Americans to obtain high-speed Internet to facilitate better access to health care and business development information.
"We have got to hold Trump accountable for every failure and broken promise he deals to rural communities," Judge said, "whether on trade, waivers to oil and gas companies, or infrastructure."
Priorities USA, the largest Democratic Super PAC focused on the presidential election, said polling in battleground states shows that "rural voters do have a slightly favorable opinion of Trump and his work on the economy." But it added that rural residents "are concerned about health care and also don't see themselves as thriving under Trump's economy."