Hello, I'm Mark Pearson.
An academic group charged with assigning dates to recessions has declared that the 2001 recession officially ended in November of that year. That would be news to most Americans, three-fourths of whom say in a new poll that the economy is in "not so good" or "poor" condition.
And though housing starts edged up in June and inflation rose only modestly, the White House this week projected a record federal budget deficit in 2003 of some $455 billion.
That bloated figure has put new pressure on Congress to cut funding. It's also allowed a certain political leverage to powerful lobbying interests. A case in point is the battle in Washington over country-of-origin labeling, or COOL.
During debate this week in the House on agriculture appropriations, opponents of COOL succeeded in getting the USDA budget trimmed by $872 million. The funding bill prohibits USDA from spending any money to meet the September 2004 deadline for having the labels placed on meat products in grocery stores.
Henry Bonilla, R-Texas: "This country-of-origin labeling provision that was put in the Farm Bill last year is controversial and costly."
It's also unpopular with meatpackers and grocers, who have put up the stiffest opposition. They claim mandatory labeling will cost them a minimum of $2 billion to implement. A last-minute attempt by Montana Republican Dennis Rehberg to save the provision failed by 15 votes.
Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Montana: "I don't think it will lose in the Senate. I don't think it will lose in conference."
According to some members of the U.S. Senate, the House action was short-sighted. Country-of-origin labeling enjoys much broader support in the upper chamber, where this group of lawmakers vowed to preserve funding for the measure.
Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D.: "In my view, the House of Representatives is doing a great job of looking after the interests of livestock producers in Mexico and Canada, but a lousy job of looking after the interests of livestock producers in the United States and consumers in the United States."
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa: "They ought to be able to know when they go to the local supermarket here in the United States that this is a product that they want to buy."
The senators supporting COOL say they have the backing of 130 producer and consumer organizations. They also note that some form of country-of-origin labeling already is practiced in 60 other nations. Failure to implement COOL in the U.S., they say, will erode consumer confidence in American goods ... and cause the potential loss of huge export markets like Japan, which is demanding compliance.