Numbers released by the government this week confirm what many Americans know, the economy isn't doing so well. Output at factories, many of which have laid-off workers, was down in November. So too was consumer inflation. In fact for the year, inflation is running at a mere 1.9 percent. Attempting to pump more life into the economy, the federal reserve this week rolled back interest rates for the 11th time this year. The cost of money is the lowest it's been since 1961. So far Americans haven't much responded to the cheaper rates. For Rural Americans, or at least those historically favored by government farm subsidies, the question is will those dollars continue to flow. Debate in Congress is certain. The outcome is not.
Hopes for the passage of a farm bill by the end of the year are dwindling. Republicans opposed to the legislation crafted by Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin have blocked efforts to limit debate on the bill. Senators instead spent the week debating several amendments ranging from catfish to Cuban food embargoes.
Among the action taken, the Senate:
--Rejected an amendment that would have shifted some $1 billion a year from farm commodity to food stamp programs.
--Rejected a Republican-led attempt to strip the dairy program from the farm bill.
--Approved an amendment limiting livestock ownership by the nation's largest packer-processors.
The Republican leadership in the Senate, backed by the White House, opposes the Harkin bill. They say its passage will encourage the overproduction of crops and further drive down commodity prices.
A Republican plan offered by Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Pat Roberts of Kansas has lower price guarantees but higher fixed payments. It also would give farmers money to deposit in IRA-type accounts.
Existing farm programs don't expire until next September. But farm state lawmakers and agricultural interests have been pushing for an extension of subsidies out of fear there won't be as much money in the federal treasury next year for farm programs.