Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. The inflation "boogey man" was heard on Wall Street this week, as news of higher prices hammered the stock market. According to the Labor Department, the Producer Price Index, which measures the price of goods before they reach store shelves, rose nearly one percent in April... its largest increase in seven months. Fueled mostly by soaring energy costs, the Consumer Price Index, the most widely accepted barometer of inflation, rose 0.6 percent in April... its largest jump in three months. News of higher prices hammered the stock market as the Dow Jones industrials plummeted nearly 215 points on Wednesday, in the biggest single-session loss in three years. The notion of a "rough spot" in the economic road is not good news for the Bush administration. Already mired in record deficits and an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq, the president's approval ratings now are equal to Jimmy Carter's at the end of his presidency and approaching those of Richard Nixon. And with Congress once again debating the politically charged issue of immigration reform, the president took to the airwaves this week outlining his plans on how to deal with an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants.
President George Bush: "The U.S. must secure its borders."
Border security was at the top of the President's agenda this week in a nationally televised address on immigration. He announced his plan to deploy up to 6,000 National Guard troops to states along the Mexican border.
Bush acknowledged the emotions the immigration issue has stirred and declared the debate has reached a time of decision. But, it appears the President's address did little in moving Congress toward a middle ground. His decision to deploy National Guard troops to the U.S. - Mexico border, as well as offer illegal immigrants a chance to become citizens did not satisfy conservative Republicans, gave Democrats a new opening to question his leadership and sparked complaints from border-state governors.
On Thursday, Bush visited some of the busiest crossing sectors of the Mexican border. The President supports an amendment approved by the Senate earlier in the week which includes 370 miles of a triple-layer fence and 500 miles of vehicle barriers.
There is a core group of GOP House members who support stricter immigration reform. They are adamantly opposed to any path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, calling such plans amnesty for lawbreakers.
Sen. David Vitter, R-Louisiana: "The huge majority have fundamental problems with these provisions, which they know when using common sense, particularly when they understand details of the bill to amount to absolute amnesty."
Bush and others dispute that categorization, saying the Senate legislation includes financial penalties for illegal immigrants seeking the U.S. citizenship.
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona: "The reason why opponents call it amnesty is because they know poll and after poll the majority of American people say let them earn their citizenship."
The Senate bill contains provisions for most of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. and a guest worker program --proposals Bush has endorsed. The House bill passed in December has no provisions providing a path to legal residency or citizenship for illegal immigrants. Nor does it have a guest worker program.
Other amendments added to the Senate bill this week that might appeal to conservatives include:
A reduction of an estimated 500,000 in the number of illegal immigrants who could pursue citizenship.
Tighter restrictions in the bill's temporary worker program, which would give U.S. citizens priority over non-documented immigrants in hiring decisions. That provision passed narrowly, 50 to 48, in a vote that split largely down party lines.
Agriculture is highly dependent on a largely undocumented workforce. It's estimated that 70 percent of those working in the fields currently, do so illegally, and farm groups want the labor force to have a path to citizenship.