U.S. consumers spent more than expected last month, boosting hopes for the fragile economic recovery.
According to the Commerce Department, retail sales rose 1.3 percent in November. That's their largest increase since August, and was more than double the gain economists expected.
The increase was paced by a 6 percent spike in sales at service stations, due in part to higher gasoline prices.
Meanwhile, The Federal Reserve reports consumers borrowed $3.5 billion LESS in October, marking a record ninth consecutive month of declines. Demand for revolving credit, like credit cards, fell 9.3 percent, while auto loans rose at an annual rate of 2.6 percent.
But if consumers are seeking a mentor on fiscal responsibility, they'd better find a role model other than Uncle Sam.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland called on Congress Friday to approve at least $1.8 trillion in additional federal borrowing next year in order to avoid a default on the U.S. debt.
That number could go even higher as Congress hammers out sweeping reforms on health care and new measures to address climate change. At the Copenhagen Climate Conference this week, developing nations demanded hundreds of billions of dollars from industrialized countries prior to reducing their emissions.
And in Washington, the EPA began the process of regulating greenhouse gasses as a pollutant.
The Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, concluded a multi-year process this week by determining greenhouse gases are a risk to human health. EPA's decision also pegs gases like carbon dioxide as pollutants that contribute to global climate change.
The internal finding is years in the making following a public battle between the Supreme Court and the Bush Administration-era EPA. Back then, government officials argued EPA was not responsible for regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act – a case they eventually lost. But current EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson remains hopeful for climate change legislation on Capitol Hill that would keep new government policy under the legislative branch. Sen. John Kerry, a co-sponsor of cap-and-trade legislation in the U.S. Senate, has argued EPA is "too blunt" of a government tool to properly limit greenhouse gases.
Lisa Jackson, EPA Administrator: "I absolutely prefer that the Senate take action. And I'm hopeful that they will. I join the president in calling for clean energy and climate legislation. And that's because I think having economy-wide legislation sends an unequivocal signal to the private sector that we really mean it, that we're moving towards green energy."
Jackson, speaking on the PBS Newshour this week, contends the EPA's announcement this week could strengthen America's standing at global climate discussions in Copenhagen, Denmark. Any successful agreement in Copenhagen would likely include the industrialized nations of China and India – both major contributors to global greenhouse gases.
Back in rural America, the stakes couldn't be higher. Global climate agreements and U.S. legislation have been characterized as both a boon to renewable fuels and a bust for farmers fighting the prospect of increased input costs.
Obama Administration officials have previously outlined a federal carbon offset program that would pay farmers to plant trees on marginal lands. Officials speculated the program could raise commodity prices and boost farm income. But in July, EPA Administrator Jackson and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack faced stiff questions from skeptical Senators.
Lisa Jackson, EPA Administrator: "An offsets program that includes some incentives for forestation could have the impact of taking some acreage out of production and into forest production. But we do not have a number."
Sen. Mike Johanns: "It is no consolation to stand with one foot in the campfire and one foot in the ice bucket and say on average I'm in good shape. It is no consolation to say to farmers and ranchers you are going to be in good shape on average if you don't know the regional differences, if you don't know the crop differences and you can't tell them how much land is going out of production. And yet we have a House bill that is passed and I find that shocking."
Health care legislation churning on Capitol Hill has pushed back a Senate climate deal until an unknown timetable in 2010. Global climate talks in Copenhagen will wrap by December 18.