The federal government will be missing money it hoped to have over the next decade. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates a 10-year surplus of a mere $1.6 trillion dollars, a staggering plunge of 71 percent from last year's estimates.
The fiscal nosedive has been prompted mostly by the recession, the war on terrorism, and the $1.35 trillion cost of President Bush's 10-year tax cut.
Nevertheless, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan this week expressed optimism about the chances for economic recovery. He says businesses are working off their inventories of unsold goods, freeing them to increase production, hire more workers and leading to increased consumer spending.
That bit of optimism also is evident in at least one sector of rural America.
Overall the rail carrier's earnings soared by 20 percent. Much of the jump was due to lower fuel costs and a rise in coal shipments. Unit train grain shipments, especially to Mexico, also rose in the fourth quarter -- by a robust 8 percent.
After working through the initial nightmare of tangles caused by the mergers of other carriers, U-P, the biggest carrier in the hemisphere, now seems to be on the right track. Quarterly net income was reported at $1.06 a share, 10 to 12 percent higher than Wall Street forecasts.