**War and unrest in oil producing countries like Nigeria and Iraq, coupled with summer repairs at U.S. facilities, kept oil prices above $70 a barrel again this week.
The high prices and sluggish domestic economic growth didn't stop U.S. employers from increasing the size of the job pool. **Employment numbers for June showed 132,000 more people are on the payroll.
The job growth has helped **unemployment to remain steady at 4.5 percent for the past three months.
While the domestic economy moves towards its full potential, global trade reforms have come to a full stop. This one factor continues to weigh heavily on prospects for the 2007 Farm Bill. In Washington, even with a holiday break in the middle of the week, the wrangling continues. With Doha trade talks all but dead, and President Bush's trade promotion authority, or fast-track, totally gone for the rest of the term, what to do about the next farm bill remains a topic of discussion. Since the June breakdown of World Trade Organization talks, major players have been meeting bilaterally to forge their own deals. The lack of consensus on world trade has U.S. legislators seriously considering an extension of the 2002 Farm Bill, but not everyone is in agreement on this point.
Senate Ag Chairman Tom Harkin was vocal in his condemnation of the extension. Harkin, who molded much of the 2002 farm bill, believes now is the time to move on a "fairer, smarter bill" for agriculture.
Harkin wants to lower direct payments to the nation's wealthiest farmers and "tighten the belt" around farm subsidy expenditures. The surplus funds could support conservation programs and renewable energy initiatives.
Despite Harkin's disapproval, House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson defended the June extension vote. Peterson stated the dramatically under-budget 2002 farm bill is still a great improvement over the 1996 "Freedom to Farm" Act.
Just this week, Senator John Thune warned that farm bill debate could push a vote back so far that a two-year extension would be necessary. The South Dakota Republican says an agreement over parameters of the 2007 farm bill are unlikely before an August congressional recess and that an accelerated election cycle could dampen prospects for a new bill.
But senior Bush Administration officials are pushing hard for a new farm bill this fall. Speaking to Iowa farmers this week, USDA Secretary Mike Johanns said, "No one is going to rush to the point of doing poor policy. If we need time, we'll take the time."