[imgcontainer right] [img:max-baucus.jpeg] Sen. Max Baucus of Montana. [/imgcontainer]

It’s hard to get a handle on the President’s budget, as it relates to rural America. Where do you start?

Although agriculture is only a piece of the rural economy, it’s easy to identify that spending as rural. In the Obama budget, the USDA would be cut $3.2 billion, according to the Washington Post, “with the biggest cuts coming from direct payments to high-income farmers, rural home-loan programs and wetlands conservation programs.” Direct payments would be cut $1 billion; so would the conservation program. 

There is an increase in spending ($6.5 billion) for alternative fuels, and food programs for low income people would rise slightly, to $99 billion.

•Sen. Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat, didn’t much like the way the President’s budget cut direct assistance to rural fire departments and police while boosting education programs aimed at cities. The Great Falls Tribune quotes Baucus: 

“This budget shows that D.C. bureaucrats don’t understand what’s important for rural America, and that’s why it’s so important that lawmakers have the ability to make funding decisions for their states,” he said, a critical reference to Congress’ vow to abandon pet-project spending known as earmarks.

“When Congress hands the purse strings over to the White House, we end up with high-speed rail systems over transportation on the Hi-Line, security funding for big cities over critical support for Montana police and fire departments, grants that put education funding for rural districts in jeopardy while favoring big-city schools, and cuts to agriculture and water projects,” he said.

• Meanwhile, timber counties were pleased that Obama would put almost $330 million into the first year of a five year extension of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act. This money goes to communities that have been dependent on timber. 

• Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood says he wants to make sure that “rural America is not left out” in transit funding. The major increases in the Obama bill, however, are for public transportation. Roads and bridges get a smaller amount. 

• “President Obama’s budget packs plenty of pain for South Dakota,” writes Ledyard King of Sioux Falls Argus Leader newspaper. He continues: 

“Included in the massive document released Monday are provisions that would cap farm subsidies, trim Indian programs, slash heating assistance for low-income families, practically ignore the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System, and eliminate funding for the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory project in the Black Hills.”

• And in non-budget news……”There are cost pressures from virtually everywhere,” a clothing manufacturer tells the New York Times. 

Copper prices are at 40-year highs. Cotton prices are near their highest levels in a decade. “Prices for corn, sugar, wheat, beef, pork and coffee are soaring,” the Times reports. “Labor overseas is becoming more expensive, meanwhile, and so are the utility bills to keep a factory running.”

The paper predicts prices in stores will be rising by the fall.

• The St. Petersburg Times is reporting that Florida Gov. Rick Scott still isn’t explaining why he wants to repeal a law that would more strictly monitor prescription drug sales in his state. 

Florida has become a shopping center for those seeking narcotics, particularly residents of Appalachian Kentucky. 

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