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Vulnerable Democrats push for local priorities in budget

US Representative Cindy Axne of Iowa was slow to back a $ 1,000 billion infrastructure bill after the Senate passed last month. It wasn’t the price tag that tripped the Democrat out of a swing House neighborhood. It was that none of the money was going to a domestic industry – ethanol and biodiesel.

Axne set out to solve this problem. In the weeks that followed, she got assurances from congressional leaders that a separate multibillion-dollar budget plan would include money for renewable fuels. She is now on board.

Its biofuels market underscores the political strategy embedded in negotiations over massive new federal spending.

While Democrats have set out to pass ambitious bills with historic social safety net expansions and long-sought new programs, it’s not the number of politically vulnerable Democrats like Axne who are selling them back home. For them, Washington’s spending boom has become a chance to deliver the goods – and earn headlines and perhaps bipartisan support in their districts.

“If she wants to be elected next time, that’s her political bread and butter,” said Ray Gaesser, a Republican farmer in the Axne district and former candidate for Iowa’s secretary of agriculture, said about his job to get money for biofuels. “For my part, I appreciate his approach.

Representative Angie Craig of Minnesota took a similar approach.

Craig, whose district includes large tracts of farmland southeast of the Twin Cities, is promoting his role in securing $ 2.5 billion for farmers and rural small businesses to convert to springs. renewable energy and high-efficiency equipment as a financial incentive to meet higher environmental standards.

She tweeted on Friday that she was “delighted that my long-standing priority” was “to support family farmers and boost investment in rural America.”

In Virginia, Representative Abigail Spanberger said her main focus was on a measure to exempt small farmers and foresters in her district from a property tax increase that President Joe Biden proposed to help pay for the $ 3.5 trillion bill.

Although the constituents of Spanberger are concentrated in the suburbs of Richmond, the district stretches north and south through the hilly agricultural Piedmont and its many dairy, vegetable and cattle farms and private forests.

“I focused on protecting small family farmers and foresters, certainly throughout central Virginia,” Spanberger told The Associated Press.

Lawmakers’ efforts are aimed at helping rural America, where Democrats have steadily lost votes over the past decade. The party is lucid about the need to at least cut its losses in these areas, if it is to hold the seats in Congress – and control of the House in 2022.

Democrats currently only have an eight-seat majority. Republicans are aiming for about 30 seats in the House where Democrats won less than 10 percentage points. Axne, Spanberger and Craig each won by no more than 2 percentage points.

“There has been a very deliberate effort to think through these provisions in a way that would benefit rural communities,” said Democratic pollster Geoff Garin who advises the party on the budget.

Republicans argue that the size of the spending bill will turn off rural voters in key districts, and will not attract support.

“Rural voters are extremely concerned about the reckless spending and massive tax hikes that will be included in the Democrats’ reconciliation bill,” said Mike Berg, spokesman for the Republican National Committee of Congress. “If Democrats think the concerns of these voters will be assuaged by a few bribes from the federal government, they are sorely mistaken.

The trillion-dollar infrastructure bill – a plan for roads, bridges, transit and high-speed internet – was passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate with bipartisan support in the month latest. The House is expected to pass the bill, but its success is tied to progress on the $ 3.5 trillion budget bill that includes extended child tax credits, expanded Medicare coverage, a no-cost community college education and other social and environmental programs.

Pelosi has set an ambitious goal of surpassing it by October 1.

Axne announced on Wednesday that the House budget bill would include $ 1 billion to expand the retail availability of ethanol and biodiesel across the country. Iowa is the nation’s leader in the production of ethanol, a fuel additive made from corn, and biodiesel, typically made from soybeans. The amount is double what Axne asked for in a bill she introduced to the House agriculture committee this year.

Subsidies are expected to increase demand for fuels nationwide, boost production at Iowa’s 42 ethanol plants and biodiesel refineries, as well as raise the price of corn and soybeans for the farmers who supply them. , according to Iowa renewable fuels advocates.

“It impacts the price of soybeans by over a dollar a bushel. That’s a lot of money, ”said Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association and former Republican candidate for Congress. corn is higher. “

On top of that, for the fraction of the cost of the overall bill, the measure would immediately accelerate the reduction in carbon emissions, a priority of Biden’s plan, Axne said.

“It’s impossible for everyone to drive electric vehicles overnight,” Axne said in a recent interview with AP. “So why the hell aren’t we, if our goal is to have a positive impact on the climate, by blending more biofuels now so that we can automatically reduce greenhouse gases?”

It’s also a relatively low price for a House seat critical to Democrats’ chances of holding a majority.

Axne has the distinction of winning by the smallest margin – 1.4 percentage points – of any Democrats in a district worn by Republican Donald Trump last year.

Last year, the former state government administrator and small business owner of the Des Moines suburb won Polk County, home to Des Moines and most of its suburbs, but lost the other 15. counties in the district.

Much like Spanberger’s plea for rural Virginians, Axne’s focus on an economic priority in the geographic majority of his GOP-leaning district could cut his losses in rural Iowa next year.

There will of course be other factors. Biden’s overall approval rating, now sinking after criticism for the recent chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and increasing COVID-19 cases, is likely to play a major role. And a number of factors will emerge ahead of an election nearly 17 months from now.

Still, the success of Axne’s first leg is a good sign for her, said Shaw, the Republican advocate for renewable fuels.

“I hate to say that something makes or breaks someone. But there are times when you have a chance to make a difference and that’s where the rubber meets the road, ”he said. “At the end of the day, we need people who can deliver.

The Independent Gt