The New York based Conference Board said this week its Consumer Confidence Index rebounded unexpectedly in May. Economists monitor the index closely, since consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of all U.S. economic activity.
The optimism was supported later in the week, when the Labor Department reported U.S. employers added 157,000 workers to U.S. payrolls in May... nearly twice as many as the previous month.
The economic data was welcomed in the equity market, where investors pushed both the Dow and the S. & P. 500 well into record territory.
Rural America's fortune, unlike that of Wall Street, is heavily influenced by government farm policy. And this week, former South Dakota Senator Tom Daschle -- a Democrat -- and former Kansas Senator Bob Dole -- a Republican -- laid out a unified agenda for the 2007 Farm Bill.
Bob Dole, Bipartisan Policy Center: "...the number of farmers going down and down and down or fewer more bigger farmers and fewer smaller farmers. Hopefully, maybe some of the things suggest will maybe slow that down or turn it around."
At the top of the proposal was the elimination of the direct payment program. These funds would be shifted into a permanent disaster assistance fund for farmers. This would be coupled with changes to the counter-cyclical payment program. Combined with marketing loan programs that treat all producers equally, would be a cap on subsidies of $250,000 a year. This includes the abolishment of the loophole allowing farm families to use several names to receive multiple payments on jointly owned property.
The bi-partisan proposal includes the extension of the ethanol tax credit to 2020 and increases the annual fuel production mandate to 60 billion gallons by 2030.
Daschle and Dole's environmental program includes mandatory participation in a carbon sequestration trading exchange and tax incentives for enrolling in a greenhouse gas trading program.
And their conservation measure calls for, among other things, an expansion of the Conservation Reserve Program to 40 million acres and a financial incentive to open their lands through walk-in programs.
Tom Daschle, Bipartisan Policy Center: "Our goal, as is really pretty simple. How can we look at farm policy in a way that would allow farmers to generate the greatest degree of income from the marketplace."