Employers expanded their payrolls significantly last month, fostering sentiment that the U.S. economy MAY pull out of its midyear slump.
According to the Commerce Department, U.S. employers added 163,000 workers in July. That boosted the monthly hiring tally to an average of 151,000 jobs per month this year. But the gain wasn’t enough to drive down the national unemployment rate, which ticked UP one-tenth of a point to 8.3 percent.
Notions of increased hiring were welcomed on Wall Street where the Dow, S&P 500 and NASDAQ all moved sharply higher on the news. Commodity prices also rallied with crude oil posting a gain of nearly 5 percent Friday, while nearby corn prices advanced 16 cents and settled above $8 per bushel.
Higher grain prices, of course, are due to the worst drought in half a century. House lawmakers approved emergency assistance for livestock producers late this week. But Senate leaders didn’t take up the measure and called on the House to move forward on its version of the Farm Bill. Ultimately, nothing was accomplished and Congress left for a five-week recess.
The U.S. House approved a drought assistance package Thursday on a 223-197 vote. The measure would provide $383 million in federal drought assistance for livestock producers. But critics from inside and outside Washington saw the farm disaster bill as a political vote meant to shelter rural Congressional Republicans during the five-week recess. The vote also underscores deep divides over a larger discussion on the 2012 Farm Bill.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D - California: “Make no mistake. We should be voting on a farm bill, not a drought bill. I have great sympathy for the needs of our cattlemen and those who are suffering from the drought. But I think that this bill is just another -- another indication of we're doing something that doesn't meet the needs of the issue that our economy requires.”
Despite the former House leader’s criticism, current Speaker John Boehner signaled a full vote on the House Farm Bill version would have failed.
Rep. John Boehner, R - Ohio: “The House is pretty well divided. You have got the left concerned about reductions in the food stamp program. You have got the right who don't think the cuts go far enough in the food stamp program to bring to -- into compliance with what the law has been. And, frankly, I haven't seen 218 votes in the middle to pass a farm bill."
Congressional proponents of a new five-year farm bill argue the current stalemate is unprecedented in legislative history. The Senate passed its Farm Bill measure in June and the House agriculture committee passed its version in early July on a bipartisan 35-11 vote. But the bill never made it to the House floor for Debate.
Without full House approval, both chambers are unable hammer out differences in a legislative conference committee. Meanwhile, emergency assistance is NOT available for livestock producers besieged by historic drought.
Sen. Ben Nelson, R – Nebraska: “Unfortunately, the disaster programs in the 2008 farm bill are done and expired. And while the Senate passed a five year farm bill in June, the House isn’t even expected to take action on it.”
The nation’s largest farm lobbying organization, American Farm Bureau, was among a long list of agriculture groups giving the House disaster bill a lukewarm reception amid a push for a five-year measure.
Mary Kay Thatcher, American Farm Bureau Federation: “The disaster provisions that are being debated in the stand alone bill are exactly the same as what is in the Senate passed farm bill and the House Ag committee passed farm bill. It would be much easier and much more expedient if Congress would just finish the farm bill.”
The August recess may pause Congressional wrangling, but the current Farm Bill faces a September 30th expiration date. While the Obama Administration strongly supports a new, five-year measure, this fall’s presidential political season may push Congress in the direction of a short-term Farm Bill extension.