Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. There were more signs this week that higher energy prices and the worst housing slump in decades are eroding optimism in the U.S. economy.
The New York-based Conference Board said its Consumer Confidence Index fell last month to the lowest level since hurricanes shut down Gulf Coast oil refineries in 2005.
Crude oil prices, which exceeded $96.00 per barrel briefly this week, have surged 20 percent in the past month alone while retail gasoline prices have risen more than 15 cents per gallon since mid-October.
Against that backdrop, the Federal Reserve cut a key interest rate by one-quarter of-a point Wednesday for the second time this year.
Ironically, the Fed's action came on the same day the government announced America's Gross Domestic Product, the broadest measure of the overall economy, grew by a nearly four percent rate in the 3rd quarter.
While agriculture makes up a small portion of America's GDP, it continues to be a driving force of the economy. And this week, President Bush selected a new captain to take the helm at USDA.
President George W. Bush: "I urge the Senate to swiftly confirm Ed Schafer as the 29th Secretary of Agriculture. I look forward to having this good and decent man as a member of my Cabinet. Congratulations."
With that, President Bush nominated former two-term governor of North Dakota Ed Schafer to be the next Secretary of Agriculture.
Ed Schafer, Secretary of Agriculture Nominee: "I appreciate the confidence that you have in me, and if I am confirmed, I'm looking forward to serving you and the people of the United States of America in your Cabinet as Secretary of Agriculture."
During Schafer's two terms as governor of North Dakota, he oversaw initial development of the Peace Garden state's biofuels industry, worked to promote trade between the state's farmers and Chinese consumers, and handled eight statewide disasters including the 1997 flood and fire in Grand Forks. Despite handily winning two elections, Schafer, a Republican, chose not to seek a third four-year term in 2000.
If his nomination is approved by the Senate, Schafer will pick up where former Secretary Mike Johanns and Acting Secretary Chuck Conner left off with negotiations on the 2007 farm bill. President Bush has further tasked Schafer with assisting in solving problems with Doha trade policy and continuing work to open up new markets for American beef.
Senate Agriculture Committee, Chairman Tom Harkin of Iowa, and House Agriculture Committee Chairman, Congressman Colin Peterson of North Dakota -- both Democrats -- say they are looking forward to working with Schafer. Peterson went on to question whether Schafer will have to follow the Administration's line on issues like sugar and permanent disaster assistance or if he would be permitted to negotiate.
If confirmed, Schafer would oversee 100,000 employees.