Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. Increased sales coupled with favorable economic policy decisions offered a glimmer of hope this week to the beleaguered housing industry.
**On Friday, the National Association of Realtors announced Existing Home Sales rose by nearly 4 percent in February -- their largest monthly increase in nearly three years.
Earlier in the week,**Federal Reserve policymakers said they would make no changes in interest rates. The Fed even raised the possibility that rates could be cut in the months ahead.
**The announcement sparked a rally on Wall Street, where the Dow Jones industrials gained nearly 160 points in the index‘s largest single-day gain since last July.
Those developments, while significant to most Americans, aren't likely to get much attention on Capitol Hill, where democrats are crafting their first budget resolution since winning control of Congress last fall.
Budget matters were at the top of the agenda this week on Capitol Hill. When discussions shifted toward agricultural matters, Senator Kent Conrad included $15 billion in additional funding for farm programs through 2012. But Congress may struggle to fund those appropriations due to strict pay-as-you-go rules.
In an effort to reform policy and save the federal government millions of dollars, Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa reintroduced an amendment to cap individual farm payments at $250,000.
Sen. Charles Grassley, Iowa – "Now the average taxpayer listening to me say that will say ‘what planet did you come from?' $250,000 is a lot of support. But I'm saying in comparison to limits now in the bill that are $360,000 and legal subterfuge to get around the law that allows some farmers to get millions of dollars."
A farmer himself, Grassley estimates the payment cap could generate near $500 million in savings over five years. He called for the funds to support biofuels, conservation, and rural development.
Grassley's amendment is not a new proposal. The Iowa Republican proposed an identical amendment in November 2005 and faced stiff opposition from southern lawmakers.
Sen. Charles Grassley R - Iowa: "Ten percent of the largest farmers in America get 72 percent of the benefits to help farmers with their safety nets."
Sen. Saxby Chambliss R - Georgia: "Ten percent of the farmers in this country produce more than 72 percent of the products that come off the farm."
In 2005, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas argued that capping government payments at $250,000 hurt their constituents more due to their crop production costs.
Sen. Blanche Lincoln D - Arkansas: "We grow what we're suited to grow ...cotton and rice, which are highly capital intensive crops. Finally, on the issue of size, farmers of commodities are not getting larger to receive more payments. They get larger in an attempt to create an economy of scale, to remain competitive internationally."
Grassley's reintroduced bill met the same fate with Southern lawmakers which largely represent rice and cotton producers and once again viewed the measure as an affront to their constituents. Many Senators stated the amendment should be included in the next farm bill but not as an annual budget resolution.
After pulling the amendment from consideration, Grassley pledged to raise the issue again when the 2007 farm bill discussions ramp up later this year.