The 100 day mark in any president’s first term is often seen as a time for taking stock of the new administration. To be sure, when President Barack Obama took office, he faced extremely serious challenges, including an economic crisis, two wars, a record national debt, an unsustainable national energy policy and health care out of reach for millions of Americans.
While these large and complex problems aren’t going to be solved overnight – or in the first 100 days – President Obama has made some good decisions early in his term. He has also set a tone of openness and bipartisanship, which is very important as he has reached out to both parties for their ideas. And, while I haven’t agreed with everything the new administration has put forth, I have found willing listeners who are open to hearing arguments about what’s good for South Dakota and rural America.
As a leader of the fiscally-conservative Blue Dog Coalition, I was pleased when the administration, for the first time in years, put forth an honest budget that takes into account spending for things like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’ve also been proud to work with the administration to ensure a commitment to long-term fiscal responsibility including tougher “pay-as-you-go” budget rules.
AP Photo/Andres Leighton President Barack Obama, back to camera, shook hands with Bolivia’s President Evo Morales during the opening session of the Fifth Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, April 17.
Additionally, when it comes to renewable energy development in rural America, the president and members of his administration have repeatedly emphasized wind energy and the importance of updating the energy grid to ensure the country can capitalize on this largely untapped potential. The economic recovery package also included significant investments in new energy infrastructure.
The administration’s changes in policy regarding Cuba are also potentially significant for our state, as Cuba is a promising trading partner for the U.S. and has the potential to be an increasingly significant market for South Dakota agricultural products.
Additionally, the long-overdue enactment of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program was a hard-won victory for many lower income children in South Dakota and across the country whose parents work hard but are unable to afford health insurance. This legislation ensures that more children get access to quality, affordable health care, which will help avoid preventable conditions and lower costs for all consumers.
I haven’t agreed with everything the administration has pushed for, however. For example, I could not support the president in his request to release the second half of funding for the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
I also had concerns about proposals in the president’s budget, including his proposal to reduce direct payments to farmers with sales revenue of more than $500,000 annually. Anyone who understands the nature of farming and ranching today in rural areas knows that this proposal could affect more than just large agribusiness – it could actually hurt some smaller farmers and producers in South Dakota. I was vocal in my opposition to this plan – and raised it directly with the administration.
Additionally, I was strongly opposed to the administration’s proposal to charge a veteran’s private insurance carrier for health care costs related to service-connected injuries. Our country has an obligation to those who have served and sacrificed and we should not be looking to veterans programs as a place to make cuts that could compromise services for those who have served in uniform and their families.
In both of these cases, I joined my colleagues in expressing my disagreement with the president – and we were successful. Although I was initially disappointed with these proposals, I’m pleased that the administration allowed for disagreement and discussion and ultimately chose to pursue other options to cut costs.
To be sure, the road from day 101 onward promises to be difficult and require tough choices, but I look forward to working in a spirit of bipartisan cooperation with the administration and my colleagues in the 111th Congress to advocate for South Dakota’s needs, grow our economy and enhance our national security.
Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin is South Dakota’s at-large Member of Congress.