Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. Orders to U.S. factories for big-ticket manufactured goods posted a moderate increase in April, but mixed signals in the housing sector and soaring fuel prices are dragging economic expansion.
**The Commerce Department reported this week that orders for durable goods, those items with an intended lifespan of three years or more, increased by six-tenths of one percent last month.
**Sales of new homes jumped by 16.2 percent in April, to an annualized rate of 981,000 units. That's the largest single-month gain in 14 years, but sales are still more than 10 percent below those of last year.
**The median price of a new home — the midway point between the costliest and cheapest — fell to just over $229,000. That's down nearly 11 percent and represents the largest year-over-year decline since 1970.
Since the drop in new home prices means smaller profits for builders, the construction industry will have little recourse other than to cut production costs.
One way U.S. employers have accomplished that for years is by employing immigrant labor. But in Washington this week, tempers flared over the legal status of the workforce.
Sen. Ted Kennedy, D - Massachusetts: "You don't want your border patrol chasing landscapers across the desert."
The U.S. Senate was ground zero for contentious immigration debate this week. Discussions on the Senate floor grew heated at times as lawmakers crossed party lines to defend either side of the immigration issue.
Various amendments to the comprehensive bill were proposed throughout the week including a measure intended to strip a guest worker program from consideration.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D - North Dakota: "A proposal that says we will invite millions more immigrants who are not now living in this country that we wish to invite in to assume American jobs. We are told that we need this because you can't find Americans to fill those jobs…that is fundamentally false." (12:09:30 Presser Tape)
California Senator Barbara Boxer and North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan took issue with a guest worker program that is not industry-specific. That plan is unrelated to the detailed agriculture worker program called AgJobs. Both Senators claim the measure is "convoluted" and represents flawed policy.
Dorgan: "If you decide to vote against my amendment, I want you to have a town meeting to explain this. We allow 400,000 workers in the first year, they can come for two years and bring their family if they wish. Then they go home for a year and take the family with them. They can come back for two years but then go back…and by the way who here thinks these people will actually leave?" (16:43:30 Tape 3)
Dorgan's amendment met strong opposition on the Senate floor…especially with one of the bill's primary framers – Sen. Ted Kennedy.
Sen. Ted Kennedy, D - Mass: "If there is anybody in the Senate who thinks we can just close the border and that's it. I would like the chicken pluckers to pay $10 to $15 an hour. But they don't do it and they're not going to do it. Who are you trying to fool?" (16:37:30 Tape 3)
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D – South Dakota: "Let me stand up and say a word about chicken pluckers. I had no idea that was a debate but they will never get $15 an hour as long as we bring in cheap labor through the back door to pluck chickens. I'm more interested in manufacturing jobs."
Despite lengthy discussions, Dorgan's amendment failed on a 31 to 64 vote. Later in the week, Dorgan proposed a second version of his amendment that would cancel the guest worker program after five years. That measure failed by a razor-thin 48 to 49 vote.
Senators expect to reconvene immigration debate shortly after Memorial Day.