The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

Evaluations of Obama & McCain Positions on the Economy

Posted on October 01, 2008 at 12:18 PM

On Sept. 24, Delta Grassroots Caucus leaders held a news conference at the Arkansas state Capitol to analyze the economic policy positions of Barack Obama and John McCain, and stated that on the merits and the facts, Obama’s positions are similar to long-held positions of the Delta Caucus on key issues like job creation and reviving the economy in the midst of the financial crisis, expansion of renewable energy to cut energy prices, housing issues, expansion of the Delta Regional Authority budget, preservation of the historic riverboat the Delta Queen, and economic development of the Delta from southern Illinois to New Orleans. These comments are not an endorsement, because we know many people may support Sen. McCain based on experience, his undeniable status as a war hero, their perceptions of his personality traits, foreign policy positions, or other non-economic issues. The Caucus was confining these comments to economic issues, which are the fundamental area of our organization’s work.

Below in this email we will present detailed information on the factual differences between the two candidates on the economic plight of the Delta today.

We should emphasize that our conclusions have nothing to do with whether a given political leader happens to be a Republican or a Democrat. Last year we commended former Gov. Mike Huckabee for being the first Presidential candidate to endorse a major increase in the Delta Regional Authority budget. We have repeatedly noted that we could not have made the limited progress we have made in increasing the DRA budget without the help of key Republicans, above all the senior ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, and others like Rep. Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri, Rep. Rodney Alexander of Louisiana and other Republican Representatives from our region. We have often noted that President Bush’s two appointees to the DRA, Federal Co-Chair Pete Johnson and Alternate Federal Co-Chair Rex Nelson, have done a fine job in leading that agency. We also certainly have plenty of Democratic supporters.

We would also like to mention that the day after the news conference several Delta Caucus leaders met in Helena-West Helena, where Good Morning America broadcast nationally. That broadcast provided additional national exposure to the Delta, and we congratulate Mayor James F. Valley of Helena-West Helena and all the people from that important Delta community for doing such a great job of hosting the national television crews. Mayor Valley recalled that Mark Twain once said that Helena was the most beautiful place on the Mississippi, and I heard one of the television reporters saying that parts of the renovated downtown of the city where the KIPP school is located “looked like a movie set.” The river looked majestic and beautiful that morning.

Regarding our assessment of the Presidential candidates’ economic positions, we appreciate the Delta Caucus leaders for stepping up to the plate to urge action in the economic crisis for the region and the country, including Mayor Brad Cole of Carbondale, Illinois, Mayor Carl Redus of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, Mayor Barrett Harrison of Blytheville, Mayor Bobby Hardrick of Madison, Desha County Judge Mark McElroy, housing expert Kenny Gober, executive director of the McGehee and Lake Village Housing Authority, Johnnie Bolin of Crossett, executive director of the Arkansas Good Roads Transportation Council, and Lee Riley Powell, executive director of the Caucus.

Historically, every time in the past there has been an economic recession, overall the Delta has suffered more than the rest of the country on a wide range of most economic indicators, because our economy was already shaky before the downturn hit.

It is a fact that in contrast to Obama’s constructive feedback on the economic turmoil, John McCain has either not answered key questions or taken stands that are similar to the weak Bush administration record for our huge, economically distressed region, and we call on him to answer this call before the campaign is over. The intent of the conference was to state the facts and also as a spur to action for the McCain campaign to devote more attention to the region. We also urge the Obama campaign to continue focusing on the plight of economically distressed areas like the Delta.

Mayor Carl Redus said “We are calling on both parties for bipartisan help at this time, and people in Pine Bluff and across the Delta feel the pressure from gas prices and lack of economic opportunities more poignantly than the more affluent areas of our country, and we welcome Sen. Obama’s forthright positions in favor of an increase in the Delta Regional Authority budget, job creation initiatives and other policies to jump-start the economy in the Delta. We urge McCain to give the same level of focus on our region as Obama has.”

“The Delta Caucus fundamentally deals with economic issues, and we know that many of our Republican or other colleagues will support McCain because of his undeniable status as a war hero, character or personality traits, foreign policy, or non-economic positions, and that is their choice and we won’t quarrel with that. But we have been grilling all the Presidential candidates for a year now, and we have to give credit where it is due and acknowledge that strictly on the economy, Obama has developed a wide-ranging program on energy, jobs, housing, health care for underserved areas, the DRA budget, and other initiatives for ending the eight-year record of neglect for the Delta from the Bush administration,” said Lee Powell, Delta Caucus director.

On the other hand, we should also note that Mayor Sheldon Day of Thomasville, Alabama, who is on the Delta Caucus executive committee and is the Alabama coordinator for the Caucus, said that McCain came down to the Alabama Black Belt at his invitation and spent an entire day touring Thomasville, Selma and other economically distressed communities. Mayor Day spent most of the day on the bus with McCain, and said he discussed with McCain the needs of impoverished small town communities in the DRA region, and McCain sounded very knowledgeable and concerned.

Mayor Day is leader of the McCain campaign’s mayoral committee in Alabama. In the Delta Caucus we have a wide spectrum of points of view and we just wanted to mention Mayor Day’s opinion, especially because he has been a vigorous leader for economic development in the region for many years. McCain’s willingness to spend so much time looking firsthand at actual conditions in places like Selma, Thomasville, New Orleans and other places in the region provides a sharp contrast to Sen. John Edwards’ phony “poverty tour” to Helena-West Helena last year, where he spent all of 16 minutes and his dialogue with Mayor Valley consisted of shaking hands and saying hello.

Regarding the factual differences in the nominees’ economic positions:

Renewable energy— Soaring gas prices eat up a disproportionately higher percentage of the smaller incomes in the Delta. Obama has advocated major expansion in renewable energy, which has major potential for reducing our dependence on foreign oil, creating jobs and promoting economic development. A recent study by the Center of American Progress said a $100 billion program to reduce dependence on oil would create 19,000 jobs in Arkansas, and while some argued that number was high, any jobs we can get and any relief from the high gas prices are welcome. Obama supports investment of $150 billion over 10 years for development of commercial scale renewable energy, advancing tax incentives for biofuels, cellulosic ethanol, and training for the manufacturing workforce to ensure that our workers have “green technology” skills. All together these investments could help the private sector create 5 million new green jobs that cannot be outsourced. We see the potential of renewable energy in such plants as Future Fuels’ operation in Batesville employing 500 people.

On the other hand, McCain has said he supports renewable energy but placed considerably less emphasis and funding for it, and called for tax breaks for oil companies. “Tax breaks for oil companies are part of the problem and not part of the solution, and what families in Pine Bluff and other people across the Delta need is help for their kitchen table issues, not bailouts for the corporations,” Mayor Redus said.

Expanding the DRA budget—Obama advocates equality among the regional commissions in funding if elected. This year he worked for an increase in the DRA budget up to $20 million, and a bipartisan group including Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) in fact achieved that result in the Senate this summer. This is more than three times the amount requested by the Bush administration and passed by the House and the final figure will be determined in Congress after the election, although every year since 2005 the Senate amount has turned out to be the final figure. The Bush administration in 2004 had tried to cut the DRA budget down to $2 million, and it has since been raised to the current level of $12 million, so another increase to $20 million is welcome, although that would still leave funding much lower than it should be.

Due to time pressures largely caused by the election, the temporary solution will probably be to leave spending levels where they are now. But the next time we revisit this vote, after the election, the Senate Appropriations Committee will be on record as having voted for the increase up to $20 million.

Equity and fairness in funding among America’s regions: Far more than working for the immediate increase, Obama has pledged to pursue a policy of equity and fairness among the three anti-poverty regional commissions in Appalachia, Alaska, and the Delta. Right now, funding for the Appalachian Regional Commission is over $400 million for transportation and $73 million from energy and water, the Denali Commission that serves a tiny population in Gov. Sarah Palin’s small, prosperous state of Alaska gets over $50 million from several funding sources, while the main pot of funding for DRA in energy and water is only $12 million, with an additional $3 million in Rural Development and $8 million in additional transportation projects channeled to the region. Obama has pledged that these funding decisions should be based on size, population, poverty levels and needs of each region.

Obama gave this statement to the Delta Caucus on the DRA:

“Sen. Obama strongly supports increased funding for the DRA. Like last year, President Bush’s budget request once again proposes to slash DRA funding by 50% to only $6 million. As President, Obama will actively promote a policy of equality and fairness among the three anti-poverty regional commissions.”

No answer from McCain: McCain declined repeated requests to state what the DRA budget should be, or whether the disparity among the Delta, Appalachia and Alaska is fair, making only the vague statement that “funding decisions should be based on priorities and not politics.” McElroy said “If he won’t tell us whether he will continue Bush’s efforts to cut the DRA, then he clearly doesn’t care about it and we can look forward to four more years of a President who undercuts the DRA instead of supporting it.” At any time that McCain makes a statement indicating support for a larger DRA budget, the Delta Caucus has repeatedly told the McCain campaign that we will be delighted to commend the Senator for doing so.

Housing issues—many lower income people in the Delta suffered from inadequate housing opportunities even before the recent financial turmoil in the nation’s housing market. As Kenny Gober, director of the McGehee and Lake Village Housing Authority emphasized, the Bush administration consistently cut funding for housing for low income people for eight years now, to the detriment of many modest income people in the Delta. Gober concluded that the Obama plan for strengthening the housing market was constructive and would help stabilize the market.

Reviving the economy: Mayor Redus has correctly emphasized the importance of “kitchen table issues” for the great majority of the people in Pine Bluff and communities across east Arkansas and the region. Since the Delta has few wealthy individuals and corporations, tax cuts for those groups as advocated by McCain do not benefit the region.

The Delta Caucus finds Obama’s emphasis on tax cuts for lower to middle income groups more constructive. Obama is supportive of Empowerment Zones, Renewal Communities, major expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, and a $50 billion plan to jump-start the economy and prevent more job losses, including a $25 billion State Growth Fund to prevent state and local cuts in health, education, housing, and heating assistance. Another $25 billion Jobs and Growth Fund would prevent cuts in road and bridge maintenance, fund school repair and save large numbers of jobs at risk of being cut.

Campaign to save the Delta Queen: Again there is a factual contrast in the positions of the two candidates. Obama is an original cosponsor of legislation to save the historic riverboat the Delta Queen, which is on the National Register of Historic Landmarks, generates tourist dollars in many communities along the Mississippi and tributaries including Little Rock, Pine Bluff, Helena-West Helena, and others, is supported by environmentalists who believe it enhances appreciation for the natural resources of the region, and has an exemplary safety record. McCain has repeatedly declined to answer questions about this issue from the Delta Caucus and others.