Hello, I'm Mark Pearson.
The nation's financial community continues to find some solid footing for optimism. Industrial production edged down 1-tenth of a percent last month, the best showing is six months. The nation's manufacturing sector may be in recovery mode. The cost of manufacturing goods remains stable. Wholesale inflation rose only fractionally, a tenth of a percent last month. Lower interest rates are also helping to hold production costs down.
In farm country, the focus of concern is not Wall Street activity or even interest rates, but rather the weave of the next government safety net for agriculture.
"On this vote, the ayes are 58, the nays are 40. The bill, as amended, is passed."
With that, the United States Senate on Wednesday approved an election-year farm bill after several days of sometimes heated debate. At its core, the bill boosts subsidies for grain and cotton farmers ... and doubles spending on conservation programs.
The measure contains some major differences from a House version of the farm bill passed in 2001. For instance, the Senate bill places strict new limits on government payments that any one farm can receive. The House version does not. The Senate bill also offers new subsidies to a variety of commodities, including milk, honey, wool and lentils.
Differences between the two bills must be worked out in a House-Senate conference committee. Observers see a March 22nd deadline for that action if a farm bill affecting 2002 crops is to be approved.
Reaction to passage of the Senate bill from farm groups was mixed. The American Farm Bureau Federation, citing the payment limitations and a controversial water rights provision, said it will oppose the bill. Conversely, the Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs called the measure the most favorable legislation for family farmers "in decades."
For its part, the Bush administration has complained the Senate bill is too costly. The bill authorizes $45 billion in new spending over the next five years. The House version permits a $38 billion increase over the same period, which is more in line with White House thinking.