Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. Glimmers of light were seen through the dark clouds of the economic downturn this week as a few more houses were built, inflation slowed a touch, and the dollar got a boost.
Last week, pundits discussed replacing the dollar as one of the cornerstones for monetary exchange rates. This week, a vote of confidence by Russia's finance minister sparked a moderate rebound for the greenback.
As the dollar bounced back, consumers witnessed a small uptick in prices. According to market analysts, the Consumer Price Index rose a mere one-tenth of one percent in May. Despite a lower than expected rise, the index has fallen by 1.3 percent over the past twelve months -- the largest decline since 1950.
Even with less being spent on consumer goods, construction of new homes jumped 17 percent last month causing some economists to speculate the end of the slump may be near.
Those homes are being built in the face of a tight credit market. In rural America, a recent survey showed the economy may be weak but rural Midwestern bankers think the worst of the recession has already passed.
And after 21 straight weeks of increasing jobless claims the number of people taking unemployment benefits fell. Even with the encouraging news the unemployment rate is still 9.6 percent and is expected to reach 10 percent by year's end.
While employment prospects remain bleak, one benefit of full-time work often is a health plan. During his campaign, President Obama promised 'health care for all' but how that task will be accomplished remains a battle between political superpowers.
The pulse of health care reform on Capitol Hill may be wavering only months before a decisive August recess deadline. President Obama's goal of expanding coverage to millions of underserved and uninsured Americans may be in jeopardy from ballooning budget estimates and Republican opposition.
Recent estimates by the Congressional Budget Office peg current versions of health care reform on Capitol Hill at $1.6 trillion over ten years. Congressional Democrats and the White House have pledged to keep that figure at or below $1 trillion.
The health care debate could have strong ramifications in Rural America. According to the Center for Rural Affairs, nearly 82 percent of rural counties are classified as ‘Medically Underserved Areas'. Demographic swings and an aging population in Rural America are expected to tax the health care industry in coming years. According to the latest Census of Agriculture, the average farm operator is 57 years old.
A myriad number of statistics are part of the overall health care debate in Washington. Party lines have largely been drawn with Democrats favoring some version of a government-backed insurance option for millions of Americans. Republicans strongly oppose additional federal spending on health care.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa: "I don't want Canadian style health care in this country. My fear is that once the government gets involved in health insurance then all the businesses will drop coverage for their employees. Then you have virtually wiped out all these private insurance companies in this country."
Iowa Republican Charles Grassley, the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, recently raised the prospect of regional Co-ops as an alternative to government-backed health insurance.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa: "If we can get bigger private sector insurance groups in the form of Co-ops then that is something I would be on board with. Rural Americans have a long history of making these types of programs work."
The Co-op proposal has not been adopted by Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus who is largely regarded as a Congressional "lynchpin" for any health care legislation. Baucus, a Montana Democrat, said this week a health care bill will be "ready when it's ready but we're not there yet."