Republicans in the Wisconsin Assembly took the first significant action on their plan to strip collective bargaining rights from most public workers, abruptly passing the measure early Friday morning. But the political standoff over the bill — and the monumental protests at the state Capitol against it — appear far from over.
Elsewhere this week, the Obama Administration continued its push to expand U.S. agricultural exports despite forecasts of tight supplies of major commodities.
Agriculture, of course, occupies an all-too-rare bright spot in America's deficit-riddled trade picture. And judging from the latest numbers on U.S. agricultural exports, the outlook is bright.
Last week, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack appeared in front of the House Ag Committee to field questions regarding the strength of the farm economy.
Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Oklahoma: "Are you concerned about the price stability of farm commodities?"
Sec. Tom Vilsack, USDA: "One of the things that is driving the current increases in prices is the growing global demand. Recent data tell us is US farm exports reached an all-time high in calendar year 2010. That combined with our efforts, and others, to try and increase agricultural productivity, not just in the United States, but globally, should help us, encourage greater stability in the market."
According to the Agriculture Department, U.S. ag exports are expected to reach a record 135.5 billion dollars in fiscal 2011.
The 2011 figure would eclipse 2008's previous record by 20 billion dollars.
Sec. Tom Vilsack, USDA: "Trade numbers just published show that for calendar year 2010, China was our number one export market, edging out Canada and accounting for a little over 15% of exports."
Government bean counters argue high export levels support other sectors of the economy. According to USDA, every $1 billion in agricultural exports generates $1.4 billion in economic activity and supports 8,000 jobs.
Within the reports, agricultural trade surplus figures also reached record levels at $47.5 billion.
But experts warn the economic factors of 2008 –such as high input costs - may drag down sectors of the farm economy.
Sec. Tom Vilsack, USDA: "Expenses are also increasing, especially prices like farm origin inputs like livestock and feed, the price of energy and operating costs.