Hello, I'm Mark Pearson.
There was enough uncertainty rippling through the U.S. economy this week to make financial and equity markets look downright bearish.
*For starters, Congress boosted the federal borrowing limit by $800 billion, underscoring how much the budget has spun out of control in recent years. *Consumer prices, stoked by higher costs for food and gasoline, increased in October by six-tenths of a percent. That's the biggest jump in inflation in five months. *And on Friday, Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan warned policy-makers NOT to ignore the bloated U.S. trade deficit. To do so, he says, would increase reliance on foreign investment to shore up U.S. stocks and bonds.
Easily spooked traders on Wall Street took all that news to heart and began a sell-off on Friday.
With the dollar at all-time lows against other major currencies, that's normally a sign of improving trade prospects for U.S. goods. But that's not the case for American farm exports, where a long-time trade surplus is shrinking.
That will be an issue in 2005 for some new faces in the Bush administration. As part of an exodus that included five other Cabinet members, Secretary of Agriculture Anne Veneman this week submitted her letter of resignation.
Serving as the nation's 27th Secretary of Agriculture, Veneman presided over the agency during a time of unprecedented concern over the safety of the nation's food supply.
Weeks after she took office in 2001, an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Europe led Veneman to strengthen inspections and testing to inhibit its arrival in the U.S.
In the wake of September 11th, concerns mounted that terrorists might use agricultural goods to deliver their next attack. And late last year, America's first case of mad cow disease prompted the agriculture department to institute new testing guidelines, ban meat from non-ambulatory cows from entering the food chain and expedite the development of a national animal identification system.
Much of her tenure at the helm of USDA was consumed with trade negotiations in hopes of opening new markets for the nation's farmers and ranchers. But,
agricultural trade continues to be the key sticking point in major trade negotiations. While the U.S. historically has enjoyed a substantial trade surplus in agricultural goods, that surplus has virtually disappeared.
Nevertheless, in her resignation letter to President Bush, Veneman focused on record levels of both agricultural exports and farm income, and said the nation's farm and food sector is "stronger and more vibrant than ever before."
Veneman plans to stay at USDA until a successor is named. The short list of those mentioned as her replacement includes: Allen Johnson, the administration's current chief agricultural trade negotiator; William Hawks, USDA undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs; Charles Kruse, President of the Missouri Farm Bureau; and several people who are, or were, members of Congress: Former Representative Larry Combest, a Texas Republican and former chairman of the House Agricultural Committee; Fellow Texan Charlie Stenholm, the current Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Committee who lost his bid for re-election earlier this month; and current U.S. Senator Ben Nelson, a democrat from Nebraska.