Though House lawmakers approved a similar measure before adjourning for the holidays, the Senate failed to pass a $14 billion lifeline for GM, Ford and Chrysler that the beleaguered automakers say would have helped them survive until the end of the year.
The bill's dramatic failure now leaves the automakers' fate uncertain, with their allies in Congress calling on President Bush to tap the $700 billion Wall Street bailout to keep them afloat.
Meanwhile, the Commerce Department reported retail sales dropped by 1.8 percent in November. That's the fifth consecutive monthly decline, and marks an unprecedented stretch of weakness in the government's retail sales records.
The decline was paced by, you guessed it, a 2.8 percent reduction in auto sales, and automakers reported that November was their worst sales month in more than 26 years.
Sales at gasoline stations declined nearly 15 percent, a drop heavily influenced by the big decline in prices at the pump.
But unemployment continues to weigh heavily on the economy. So far this year, employers have sliced 1.9 million position from their payrolls, pushing unemployment to a 26-year high.
And the U.S. trade deficit rose unexpectedly in October as the global recession dampened sales of U.S. products overseas.
While agriculture typically represents the lone bright spot in an otherwise gloomy trade picture, demand for U.S. grain is slipping. And this week, USDA predicted larger carryout numbers.
Worldwide economic realities have played an increasing role in new grain demand estimates. This week's USDA crop report pegged domestic corn ending stocks at 1.474 billion bushels – up more than 30 percent from November. The 350 million bushel increase in domestic corn ending stocks stems largely from fewer exports and weaker demand from the U.S. ethanol industry.
The USDA report signals a 300 million bushel drop in corn usage for ethanol. Bankruptcy for Midwest ethanol producer VeraSun and facility drawbacks at similar operations have sent corn stockpiles upwards.
In the World Supply and Demand Estimates, the report pegged global corn ending stocks at 123.8 Million Metric Tons – 13 million higher than November estimates. USDA claims higher output from Canada and China helped boost the worldwide corn ending stocks.
In soybeans, estimates for domestic ending stocks were identical to November's expectations as both tallies measured 205 million bushels. World Supply and Demand estimates for soybeans moved upwards to 54.19 Million Metric Tons – a gain of .13 Million Metric Tons from November figures.
In wheat, domestic ending stocks jumped 20 million bushels higher to 623 million bushels. USDA also raised the World Supply and Demand Estimates for wheat. The new global wheat supplies are 147.35 million metric tons – up by more than 2 million metric tons from November estimates.