The headline type goes to tax cuts and sacred cows being slain, but down in the fine print of Ronald Reagan's budget is some grim reading for rural America.
In fact, as some readers parse Reagan's budget, "Rosy Scenario," the elusive figure who keeps popping up as protagonist, seems to have left farm and countryside for good.
Well-publicized cuts in farmer loan programs and nutrition assistance, mainly through food stamps, are only a part of the bad news for rural America, where about a fourth of the population lives.
Traditional aid for housing, water and sewers, conservation, water and timber protection, electrification and telephone programs and rural planning and development all would be reduced or vastly altered by Reagan's budget.
Farmers Home Administration water and sewer loans would be cut from $750 million to $300 million next year, with Reagan seeking an additional cut of $160 million this fiscal year. Grants would drop from $200 million to $100 million. Two other sources of water-sewer money for rural areas would dry up. Evnironmental Protection Agency funds would go only to large cities; the Economic Development Administration would go out of business.
FmHA business and industrial loan guarantees, often controversial but often vital in remote areas, would be stopped. The current budget allocates $741 million for these guarantees.
Ownership loans for farmers would be cut from $920 million to $825 million; a loan program for new farmers with limited resources would stop. $8
At least $650 million for loans to build rental, low and moderate-income housing in the rural areas would be cut from the FmHA budget at the Department of Agriculture. Cuts also are proposed in Housing and Urban Development Department loan money for rural areas.
The Rural Electrification Administration's access to the Federal Financing Bank would be curbed, meaning that coops serving 25 million rural consumers would have to borrow higher-cost money in commercial markets.
A $3.5 million program to build rural fire stations would end; loans for community facilities such as health clinics would drop from $260 million to $130 million; $5 million in rural planning grants and a $10 million rural wetlands protection plan would stop.
The budget contains many other examples, all of which draw this complaint from Rep. Wes Watkins (D-Okla.), chairman of the Congressional Rural Caucus: "In rural America, this budget is not fair. It is not even-handed. When you cut the little daub we have, there's nothing left."
For a district like Watkins' -- 25 counties in southeastern Oklahoma where the largest town has 22,000 souls -- the impact of the Reagan budget looms large.
"In my district, we don't have a single investment banker and we have only one branch of an insured mortgage company. Farmers Home is all we've got, and the cuts in that budget are going to create a drastic housing situation," Watkins said.
The sound of similar complaints from rural-district legislators is growing on Capitol Hill, but Reagan has conservatives like Watkins, who routinely line up for fiscal restraint, over something of a political barrel.
It is easier for less-conservative types, like freshman Rep. Byron L Dorgan (D-N.D.), the sole congressman from one of the most rural of states, with some 650,000 people spread over 43 million acres. He objects to the meat-ax approach.
"In Iowa last year, Ronald Reagan said he didn't understand the meaning of parity," Dorgan said. "This budget shows he doesn't understand what rural America is about.
"No one gave Ronald Reagan a mandate to put on blinders and ignore what is working and what is not working. My mandate, if I have one, is to make a distinction."
Republican Sens. Mark Andrews (N.D.). James Abdnor (S.D.) and Arlen Specter (Pa.), among others, have made similar protestations at recent hearings over the treatment of the rural sector in the president's fiscal 1982 proposals.
Their uneasiness stems as much from the budget-cutting as it does from what some see as a sharp swing away from policies designed to bolster the quality of life on farms and in small towns across the country.
Andrews, for instance, has been critical of Reagan's plans to force rural electric and telephone cooperatives away from federal loans and guarantees into the private money market. He and others predict higher utility bills -- or no service -- for millions of consumers in remote areas.
As the congressional debate over the budget and its specific details broadens, these legislators will be joined by rural-interest groups that already are mobilizing to protect farm and small-community programs.
The Rural Coalition, for example, represents three dozen health, housing, development and kindred groups across the country. The coalition is urging its thousands of members to start pressuring Congress for relief from what it terms "19 direct hits on rural Americans" -- some of the social and farm programs Reagan wants to cut.
David Raphael, director of Rural America, another of the pressure groups, recently told Congress that the Reagan economic program is "less a new beginning than a return to an era of public neglect."
He charged that the budget discriminates against rural residents by cutting social programs and federal credit assistance and by consolidating individual programs into block grants with less money.
"The big focus on cutting federal credit programs reflects an anti-rural bias, since a majority of these programs were developed specifically to correct the demonstrated credit gap that exists in rural areas," Raphael said.
Robert Rapoza of the Rural Coalition described most of the Reagan budget cuts affecting rural areas as "really devastating." But, he said, "it is more than just a budget reduction. It is a philosophical attack on rural development and non-profit organizations that are involved in development."
Rep. Dorgan, particularly distressed by the 45 percent cut in the farm ownership loan program, put it in another frame of reference.
"While this would be cut back to $825 million, nearly twice that much, $1.5 billion, is authorized to prop up a single U.S. corporation: Chrysler. $1Is pouring money into yesterday's failures more important than investing in tomorrow's hope."