Democrats must fight for rural America

Rural America is facing an enormous economic crisis. 

Since 1990, our country has grown by 75 million people and rural America has shrunk by 3 million. 

In the latest economic recovery, just 20 large urban counties generated half of the new businesses and new business formation and 31 large counties (out of over 3,000) control nearly a third of U.S. Gross Domestic Product. 

The Democratic Party is about protecting those at risk in our society, and today that includes rural communities.

As I travel across all of Iowa’s 99 counties, it becomes more and more apparent that the divide between urban and rural Americans is growing more pronounced. This is largely because policymakers in Washington fail to do enough to help those who live in small towns.

One of the reasons I decided to run for president, and campaign extensively in Iowa, is because I believe we can do better for Americans living in rural America. 

For example, I believed it was a serious mistake for President Donald Trump — and most Democrats, including all of my 2020 Democratic opponents — to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership (known as TPP) that was negotiated by President Barack Obama. 

This trade pact would have given American farmers more access to Asian markets, and prevented China from aggressively excluding us from the economic opportunities across the globe. Instead, the president has abandoned TPP and entered into a trade war with China. 

In response, China reduced their importation of American agricultural goods like soy and pork, highly important exports for Iowa. 

The president has announced a tentative Phase One trade deal with China, but Iowa will not recoup the losses it has suffered and will endure for years to come. 

Worse, to make ends meet, farmers have been forced to rely on subsidies from the government, because the tariffs have made it impossible for them to sell their products to customers. 

The result? 

The American taxpayer has had to give billions of dollars to farmers, which is not sound government policy. Before the trade war, China enthusiastically purchased enormous amounts of our agricultural products. 

An additional blow to farmers is the Trump administration’s policy of giving biofuel waivers to fuel refiners, which has reduced the demand for ethanol and other renewable fuels. 

This policy was particularly disingenuous, because the president also promised to blend more biofuels into our transportation fuel supply. Farmers are not fooled by this hypocritical biofuel strategy and they know Iowa’s senators have not been forceful enough against the president. Republican Sens. Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst, both dedicated public servants, have put the blame on EPA officials, even though we know that Donald Trump is behind this. Grassley and Ernst are clearly afraid to call the president out, because they fear the wrath of Donald Trump’s Twitter. 

The result of the trade war with China, and the ethanol waivers, has been economic hardship. 

The Farm Bureau reports that Iowa has been one of the hardest hit states. According to the Farm Bureau, “farm debt in 2019 is projected to be a record-high $416 billion.” A near record number of farmers all across the Midwest have been filing for Chapter 12 bankruptcy; and suicides, depression and substance abuse are on the rise.

Between my work in Congress and in business, I know there are a lot of common-sense policies that could improve the lives of everyday Americans in rural communities. 

We should: rejoin the TPP, eliminate ethanol waivers, launch a national infrastructure program with a disproportionate allocation of funds to struggling economic communities, require more government contractors locate employees in struggling communities, build on the opportunity zone legislation, and center our climate change strategy in America’s heartland. 

These are some of the real solutions I’m talking about in my Heartland Startup Tour and they will bring jobs and entrepreneurs to rural Iowa. 

If I am elected president, Iowans will have a friend in the White House who supports farmers and believes in fighting for folks living in rural areas. 

Please caucus for me and send a message that rural America matters.

John Delaney is a former Maryland congressman and a Democratic candidate for president.

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