For the second consecutive month, a surprisingly weak jobs report raised concerns this week that the U.S. economy appears to be slowing.
The Labor Department reported Friday that U.S. employers added just 113,000 positions to their payrolls in January. That’s more than 40 percent below the 2013 average monthly gain of 194,000.
But solid job creation in some sectors boosted prospects for future expansion. Mining and drilling companies; construction firms; and manufacturers added a total of 76,000 new workers last month, and that helped push America’s unemployment rate down one-tenth of a point to a five-year low of 6.6 percent.
In the wake of a crippling government shutdown last fall, President Obama called on Congress to do its part in speeding the economic recovery by approving a budget, reforming immigration policy and passing a long overdue Farm Bill. Congress did reach a deal on the budget, but immigration reform is stalled in the Republican-controlled House, and the president got his wish on the third directive Tuesday, when Congress – finally – approved the Farm Bill.
After years of setback, the Farm Bill – a measure authorizing nearly a $100 billion in annual federal spending finally emerged from Congress.
Debate stretched over two days as Senators from both sides of the aisle argued for and against approval of the conference committee report.
In the end, however, lawmakers praised the compromise.
Senator Debbie Stabenow, D - Michigan: “This farm bill contains the greatest reform to agriculture in decades. We have finally ended direct payment subsidies which are given to farmers in good times and bad. Instead we shift to a responsible risk management approach that only gives farmers assistance when they experience a loss. The bill also ends farm payments to millionaires, addresses a loophole that allows people who aren’t farming to get payment limits and caps on payments and for the first time includes all commodity title programs and includes limits on marketing loans.”
Thad Cochran, R - Mississippi “The risk management policies in the bill recognize the regional differences in priorities of agriculture production throughout the country. The commodity and crop insurance title of the conference report in how congress can work effectively in support of agriculture and at the same time be responsible to taxpayers.”
North Dakota Senator John Hoeven also praised and stressed its importance to all Americans.
Sen. John Hoeven, R – North Dakota: “It is important to every single American and beyond for these simple reasons; the farmers and ranchers we have in this country produce the highest quality, lowest cost food supply in the world.”
One of the biggest shifts in policy was the demised of direct payments which paid farmers regardless of prices or yields. Instead, lawmakers approved a more market-based crop insurance support program. Most of the $4.5 billion annual cost would kick in when a farmer has losses.
One of the biggest opponents to the bill was the American meat industry. It wanted the removal of a mandate requiring packers to implement mandatory COOL standards.
Sen. Jon Tester, D – Montana: “And it continues strong country of origin labeling so is consumers know where their meat was born, raised and processed giving them the option to buy U.S. made meat if they so choose.”
The legislation was not without opposition in farm states. Republican Senator Charles Grassley, a farmer from Iowa, said too much of the bill was done behind closed doors. He also cited the removal of language that would have reworked subsidy eligibility and accurately defined who should be considered a farmer.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R – Iowa: “Frankly, when farmers that shouldn’t be getting big payments from the farm program get them, subsidizing large farmers to get larger, in my estimation is wrong.”
Arizona Republican John McCain took issue with spending to improve the marketing of sheep and the maple syrup industry, catfish research, and even a tax on Christmas trees.
Sen. John McCain, R – Arizona: “How are we are supposed to restore the American people’s confidence with this monstrosity? The only policy that gets bipartisan traction in congress is Washington’s desire to hand out taxpayer money like its candy.”
Sen. Tim Johnson, D – South Dakota: “This conference report certainly isn’t perfect. As with any legislation, that is this important and far reaching, it is impossible to fully satisfy everybody, but this is a reasonable compromise.”
The deal also drew criticisms over where cuts were made to provide savings.
Overall spending of the life of the bill is $956.4 billion and nearly 80% of the funds will go to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
The program formerly known as food stamps, currently helps one in seven Americans. Nevertheless, one southern lawmaker says the farm policy bore brunt of the cuts.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R – Alabama: “But you’re cutting $8 billion from the 20% of the program and the other $8 billion from the 80% of the program and that’s not balanced.”
Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont said the nutrition spending cuts should not have been a question up for debate.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D – Vermont: “Feed children in America so they may actually learn when they are in school? Oh, we can’t afford that. Come on, feeding those hungry children is an investment in the future of this great nation.”
In the end, very little drama occurred in the vote as the bill passed by a margin of nearly 2-to-1.
”The ayes have it 62-38, the conference committee report is adopted.”