Elizabeth Warren Has A Plan For The Rural Jurors
Elizabeth Warren is at it again with another policy proposal, this one aimed at revitalizing rural America, which she says has been squeezed by increasingly consolidated agribusinesses, and largely ignored by Washington. It's a good old progressive agenda for the heartland that should shut up anyone who thinks reaching out to rural voters means you have to sound like Donald Trump without the overt racism. Warren, who grew up in Oklahoma, knows better, as does Yr Editrix's mom.
The plan also makes an overt call for Democrats not to write off red-state progressives. Yes, there are more Dems in the urbs and suburbs, but you can't ignore such a big chunk of the country. (Hello, 50-state strategy!)
A strong America requires a strong rural America. Rural communities are home to 60 million people, hundreds of tribal nations, and a growing number of new immigrants who account for 37% of rural population growth. These communities feed our nation. And they are leading the country in sustainable energy, generating 99% of America's wind energy and pioneering efforts to harness solar energy.
As with many of her policy proposals, Warren emphasizes America is paying a huge opportunity cost by centering the economy on the already rich and the financial sector. Invest in rural areas, and millions of families will be able to create and develop wealth, benefiting the country as a whole. While we're at it, maybe it would be a good idea to notice that rural areas are on the front line of climate change -- if the nation's food supply is imperiled by changing growing conditions and invasive species, we're in a spot of trouble, no? (Wouldn't you know it, feral hogs are among the malign critters whose range and numbers are increasing with warmer climate. Fuckers are everywhere, though not in the Warren policy paper.)
Warren's rural policy takes ideas from a number of her other proposals and applies them to the particular needs of rural communities. She outlines the healthcare challenges facing rural America, for instance, and argues that parts of the Medicare for All plan can address them, with some special tweaks to fit rural situations, which have unique needs like higher rates of chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes, not to mention a worsening provider shortage and small hospitals closing.
Beyond the healthcare security that M4A would provide all Americans, Warren calls for a higher reimbursement rate for rural hospitals, and for changes in physician training and residency that would encourage more doctors to stay in under-served communities. She even outlines, in detail, how antitrust regulations could be tweaked to ensure rural areas have hospitals and healthcare providers. Too many small hospitals get eaten up in healthcare mergers that are currently too small to even qualify for the Federal Trade Commission's oversight authority. Warren would block healthcare mergers altogether, "unless the merging companies can show that the newly-merged entity will maintain or improve access to care."
The plan also includes a capital fund to help build or expand health facilities in areas that have been left short of services, and measures to increase the numbers of doctors and other health care professionals in rural areas. On top of that, Warren wants to target resources to fight the opioid epidemic, including "$2.7 billion for the hardest-hit counties and cities and $800 million in direct funding for tribal governments and organizations."
On the economic front, Warren explains how several of her proposals would look really good in John Deere green. Her universal child care plan, she notes, includes "home-based child care services, which rural families are more likely to use," so Warren's Aunt Bee or someone like her would look after the kids. Her housing plan includes "$523 million to create 380,000 affordable rental homes in rural communities," plus help for folks with underwater mortgages and for new and rehabbed housing on tribal lands. And how about that student loan forgiveness program -- it could be especially useful to the rurals:
[Young] adults are leaving rural communities for jobs in cities. Just 52% of rural student loan borrowers remain in a rural area, compared to 66% of those who did not take out loans — and those with more debt are more likely to leave.
Relieve that debt, and worries about a brain drain from small towns may be reduced, as long as the younguns can find a decent latte like they got used to in college.
Warren also calls for big investments in community broadband, going into the issue in far more detail than we're going to summarize here, because wow, what a nerd! But she's right on the money: High speed internet is every bit as vital to economic success today as electricity was in the 1930s, and the big providers have largely left rural America in the dark, or in this case, in the slow. Read the full proposal for the details, and we'll just say that Warren plans to be the FDR of rural broadband.
Investments in green manufacturing and green jobs would also be good for rural communities, especially since farming areas are already heavily invested in solar and wind. Why not make the turbines and the smart grid software there too?
Warren even points out how her financial industry reform plan, particularly her call for postal service banking, will help revitalize small communities:
The number of rural counties without a locally owned community bank has doubled since 1994, and 86 new rural banking deserts have appeared since 2008, leaving these communities with no banking services within 10 miles [...]
What's more, 25% of new rural banking deserts have been in communities of color. Credit and small loans are critical to starting and growing a small business, but longer distances between a borrower and their bank are associated with more credit denials and higher interest rates on loans. That's why I will establish a $7 billion fund to close the gap in startup capital for entrepreneurs of color, which will support 100,000 new minority-owned businesses, provide over a million new jobs, and further boost economic development in rural areas. [Emphasis in original]
Reining in Wall Street would also be good for rural areas, combating consolidation and vertical integration of the huge agribusiness companies, and making it possible for smaller farms to compete. Oddly, Warren -- or the campaign staffers writing in her name -- doesn't mention Donald Trump's disastrous trade war, or Trump's bribes to keep at least part of the agribusiness sector happy.
All in all, while there isn't necessarily a lot in the plan that is absolutely new, the really impressive thing about Warren's rural policy is that it demonstrates how much of a national agenda she's already given thought to, with components that can be slotted in and tweaked to address the particular needs of one constituency. This isn't a one-size-fits-all policy approach; rather, she's got a set of tools that are very, very adaptable. All without a single attempt to appeal to bigots! It's almost as if Team Warren trusts rural voters to know a good deal when they see it.
[Team Warren on Medium / Photo montage sources: Elizabeth Warren and Steven Polunsky, Creative Commons license 2.0]
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