The flow of numbers confirming the nation's recession continues. In the third quarter the economy recorded its worst performance in a decade, shrinking by 1.3 percent. Many economists expect the current quarter to be even worse. It seems likely the Federal Reserve will cut interest rates again in the hope of encouraging activity in an economy that is generating little consumer, much less investor, interest.
Fearing what a contracting economy will do to tax revenues, many in Congress are trying to push through spending measures before the government bean-counters say the nation can't afford them. A case in point is this week's debate on the next Farm Bill.
Christmas is still a few days away, but the "Grinch of Gridlock" paid a visit to Washington this week and stole the Farm Bill.
Current farm law doesn't expire until next Fall, but lawmakers had expressed interest in hammering out a new Farm Bill before the holiday recess.
On Tuesday, however, the Senate rejected a Republican version of the bill backed by the White House. That bill would have created new, subsidized "I.R.A. – style" savings accounts to help farmers deal with declining income.
Sen. Tom Daschle: "There are plenty of reasons why it's important for us to bring debate to a close. Let's do it. Let's move on to the other issues we've got to confront. Then let's go home for Christmas."
Senate Democrats led by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, claim the Republican bill doesn't spend enough on conservation and fails to offer adequate safety nets for farmers.
The Democrat version of the bill would raise crop subsidies, and create a new payment plan tied to fluctuations in commodity prices.
But on Wednesday, for the third time in a week, the Senate refused to limit debate on the bill, effectively killing virtually any version of the bill for the rest of this year.
Chair: "... The motion fails..."
Both the Democratic and Republican versions of the Farm Bill would have increased spending on farm programs by nearly 80-percent and over the next 10 years and reauthorize nutrition programs through the year 2006.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi said farm legislation should be a top priority for lawmakers when they return from holiday recess in late January. He also reassured his colleagues that the Farm Bill could be acted upon in due time.
But Senate Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin of Iowa expressed serious concerns over delaying the bill.
Sen. Tom Harkin: "I'm fearful that next year when we come back we're gonna' have new budget estimates. We're gonna' lose a lot of money out of this. There's gonna' be a hew and a cry from the administration that we can't afford this. And we are gonna' put our farmers and ranchers in a terrible, terrible situation next year. All because of the vote that was held 15 minutes ago."