Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. Favorable economic numbers this week revealed a growing sense of optimism among U.S. consumers. The New York-based Conference Board reports its September assessment of Consumer Confidence rose to its highest level since June. Analysts had expected a smaller gain and the news brought out the bulls on Wall Street where the Dow flirted with record highs all week. Lower fuel prices are a key factor of the positive outlook. Over the past month, retail prices of gasoline plunged 17 percent, to a national average of $2.38 per gallon. That's down more than 40 cents from a year ago, when the energy industry struggled to recover from hurricanes Katrina and Rita. While energy experts claim market forces are the reason for the decline, many motorists aren't so sure. According to a Gallup poll released this week, 42 percent of Americans believe election year politics -- and not economics -- are behind the plunge at the pump. That sentiment was hard to dismiss in Washington this week, where lawmakers and religious leaders called on Congress to wrap up its work on the politically charged issue of immigration before adjourning for the November elections.
At issue is what to do about undocumented immigrants, believed to number anywhere between 11 and 30 million, and how to create legislation that makes new laws enforceable.
Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-MA: "Without question, our immigration system is broken but how we fix it has enormous implications for our security, for our economic vitality, but most of all, who we are as a people and as a nation."
The bills up for debate contain everything from building a fence along the Southern U.S. border to prosecuting anyone who employs or assists undocumented workers.
Other speakers included religious leaders like Dr. Richard Land who commented on specific provisions of the House bill.
Dr. Richard Land, Southern Baptist Convention, And I look at that language and it disturbs me greatly because it seems to me that it could be interpreted as saying that if you saw somebody by the side of the road who was hungry and thirsty that you could be criminally prosecuted if you didn't ask them for their documentation before you gave them water, or took them to the hospital, or fed them a meal.
Three specific themes were hammered home during the press conference; security at the border, enforcement of the law, and dealing compassionately with the undocumented.
Sen. John McCain, R-AZ: "We should not have 11 or 12 million people washing around in our society without any of the protections of our laws, who can be exploited and mistreated, almost at will, because they have none of the protection of our laws that every human being that resides in our nation should have."
The House version of the bill is much stricter than its Senate counterpart, making illegal immigration a federal crime. The measure contains no guest-worker program and establishes penalties for employment of undocumented workers.
In what might appear as an attempt to move something to the president's desk prior to next month's elections, the House pared out the provision for the fence along the Mexican border and sent it to the Senate for debate.
Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania stated it would be better if there was only one bill to vote on.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R- PA: "...we have presented a comprehensive bill, and its is a concern of mine that if we accept piecemeal legislation with a fence, which I'm for, and with other items on border security and, implore verification, which I favor, that we will lose the impact on having comprehensive reform."
One of the critical issues facing legislators is giving the appearance that any bill is granting amnesty to undocumented workers.
Democratic Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado wants the debate to transcend politics.
Sen. Ken Salazar, D-CO: "I don't think that we as Americans should be in a position where we should compromise our national security based on the political season we are in, we should not compromise our economic security, based on the political season that we're in, and we should not at all compromise the human and moral responsibility that we have to people who are dying to live simply because of the political season that we are in."