President Bush took to the airwaves this week to defend his policies in Iraq and also to tout an economic plan he claims will bring prosperity. In a nutshell, those are the two issues likely to define the 2004 race for the White House. At the moment, a peaceful resolution in Iraq seems remote. But the president can hold out greater hope on the economy.
For instance, retail sales rocketed up by nearly 2 percent in March as shoppers treated themselves to a wide range of goods. The number of people filing new claims for jobless benefits trended higher this week, but continuing claims for unemployment fell by 22,000 -- that's the lowest level since July of 2001 and an indication that unemployed workers are having more success landing a job.
And though March inflation figures jumped by their highest amount in 28 months, many analysts believe the Federal Reserve will delay interest rate hikes until 2005.
Against that backdrop, the president flew to the nation's Heartland to plug everything from tax cuts to rural recovery.
President George W. Bush: "But, but, true economic vitality, the vitality that will last beyond just an economic spurt is one that recognizes the entrepreneur, the farmer and the rancher."
Bush pointed to his landmark tax cuts as one of the driving force behind the revitalized economy. With that change, he says, came business expansion, new jobs, and prosperity everywhere in the country including rural America. Bush took advantage of the occasion to call on Congress to make the tax cuts permanent.
President George W. Bush: "See I think the uncertainty in the tax code is going to make it difficult to comfortably move out into the 21st century. Now is not the time to raise taxes on hard-workin' people. This economy get growing strong, getting stronger, we don't need to raise the tax burden."
There are signs of growing prosperity in farm country, thanks to recent spikes in grain and livestock markets, as well as land values that have risen to new highs.
Despite the increase in land values, the costs for survival have increased as fewer farmers work roughly the same number of total acres. According to the recent USDA 2002 Census of Agriculture, almost 112 thousand farmers left agriculture between 1982 and 2002, but the average amount of land farmed has remained at around 440 acres.
And in a recent survey conducted by Iowa State University, the price of Iowa farm land has risen to an average of $2,275 per acre. The last time land prices touched this level was in 1982, just before the land value crash that precipitated the financial decimation of rural America.
But University researchers see the increases occurring in a different economic environment. The higher prices came at a slower and steadier pace than in the early 80s, the number of acres held without debt has grown to 74 percent, up 14 points, and the amount of land purchased on contract declined from 18% to only four percent.