Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. Economic reports this week revealed U.S. consumers -- like the federal government -- continue to pile up, albeit at a more modest pace.
According to the Federal Reserve, consumer credit rose at an annual rate of 3 percent in December, its smallest gain since October and well below the 6.9 percent surge in borrowing in November.
The increase pushed total consumer debt for 2006 to a record $2.4 trillion. That's nearly $8,000 for every man woman and child in the U.S. By the way, these figures don't include mortgages or other loans secured by real estate.
Consumers can't exactly look to Uncle Sam for a role model. The national debt currently amounts to about 8.7 trillion dollars or nearly $29,000 for every U.S. citizen.
And with the war in Iraq weighing heavily on the nation's pocketbook, President Bush this week laid out his fiscal blueprint for the coming year.
President Bush unveiled a $2.9 trillion budget this week that included $89 billion for the 2007 farm bill. Of that amount the largest portion, $56 billion, is slated for citizen entitlements like food stamps and the Women's, Infants, and Children's program. But despite the fact that agriculture receives a considerably smaller portion of the budget it continues to foster the greatest amount of controversy.
Secretary Johanns' proposal has received mixed reviews across the country. The National Corn Growers Association saw no surprises with the budget but the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition wants more spent in several areas. They want Johanns to allocate funds for, among other things, finding new markets and leveling the playing field for sustainable and organic farmers.
As proposed by Secretary Johanns, the new farm bill carries several changes with the most attention going to the newly defined "farm safety net." The proposal increases direct payments to farmers by basing the outlay on revenue instead of production.
Inside the beltway there was both praise and confusion. To help reduce any misunderstanding, Johanns went before the Senate Agriculture Committee.
Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa: "I want to compliment you and your team on really good proposal. I think there's a lot of stuff in there we can work together on."
Johanns soon discovered the senators on the committee had the same concerns as their constituents over the farm "safety net."
Senator Saxby Chambliss, R-Georgia: "Frankly, Mr. Secretary, with your proposals I see a tendency towards guaranteeing farmers payments versus providing that safety net."
Secretary Mike Johanns, USDA: "… and I would argue to you it is a more predictable safety net in terms of what farmers are trying to deal with and that is especially true in those areas that have struggled through drought and those kinds of issues."
Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota: "Why don't we see that kind of support for the $5 billion in disaster assistance for those farmers who suffered losses over the last two years?"
Secretary Mike Johanns, USDA: "I feel strongly we need to some how solve this disaster issue because it's an annual event here. How big, should it happen, should it not happen, etc. How does a farmer ever plan on that? I mean, that's no safety net."