Congress finally passed a new five-year farm bill on Tuesday, Feb. 4, after three years of squabbling. It represents the first new package of comprehensive agricultural reforms since 2008 and now awaits U.S. President Barack Obama's signature.
Passing this bill is long overdue. Special interests and regional disputes slowed the process, and a massive battle over food stamps scuttled an earlier version of the House bill in June.
Here's what you need to know...
Congress Just Played a Trick on American Taxpayers
It just so happens I have both a "trick" and a "treat" for you today.
First, the "trick."
Wednesday the House passed a bill titled The Swaps Regulatory Improvement Act.
You won't believe why they thought this would be a good idea...
How Leadership PACs Turned into "Slush Funds" for Congress
Apparently an annual salary of $174,500 and a vast array of taxpayer-funded perks is not enough for most members of Congress.
Otherwise, why would they need "Leadership PACs" - personal political action committees that supposedly raise money for political activities but in practice provide a pipeline of cash to subsidize their already-elite lifestyle.
This is an insult to every hard-working American...
Why Congress Is Still the Best Club in the World
Oh, to be a Washington insider... armed with what anyone else would call "material information," the kind that moves markets.
Not, of course, that anybody in Congress would ever use their positions as crafty, I mean crafters, of laws, or disseminators of dollars, to make a wager on the roll of the dice they have marked up in their sweaty little hands.
Those illustrious lawmakers and budget breakers, no doubt by accident or by mistake, tried that for as long as they could get away with it. Trading on "inside" information whispered on Capitol Hill.
But once they got wrist-slapped, they have, I am sure, sworn stock plunging off their daily routines. Or at least they swear they have.
No, they didn't swear off insider trading on their own. But inside the "club," anything goes.
The pump-and-dumpers in Congress were actually straitjacketed by a law they themselves came out with after some public outrage over a "60 Minutes" investigation put them in the hot seat.
How the Richest Members of Congress Made Their Fortunes
Capitol Hill is brimming with millionaires, but if you think that most of the richest members of Congress got that way from working hard, guess again.
When you browse through the list of the richest members of Congress, one of the most common themes is that many of them married into wealth, regardless of gender.
The best-known beneficiary of spousal wealth is former Sen. John Kerry, D-MA, who recently left the Senate to serve as Secretary of State in the Obama administration.
Debt Ceiling Bill Nothing More Than a Band-Aid
We have a short-term debt ceiling fix - with emphasis on short term.
U.S. President Barack Obama Monday night signed into law a bill suspending the debt ceiling, a move that allows the government to avoid default-at least until August when Congress will again have to act to prevent such a scenario.
The new law lifts the current debt limit through May 18, allowing the federal government to continuing borrowing to pay its bills until then.
But Congress does have more leeway than the May 18 deadline. The Treasury can use "extraordinary measures" to access funds, which will give it until August before the risk of default comes up again.
Are Steep U.S. Spending Cuts Inevitable?
U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the chairman of the House Budget Committee, is adamant Republicans will resist any further tax increases - a staunch GOP stance that makes steep spending cuts almost certain.
Ryan, the 2012 vice president nominee, told NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday that the $1.2 trillion worth of automatic spending cuts will take effect because "Democrats have opposed our efforts to replace those cuts with others."In the NBC interview, Ryan took aim at President Barack Obama.
"I don't think that the president actually thinks we have a fiscal crisis," Ryan said. "He's been reportedly saying to our leaders that we don't have a spending problem, we have a healthcare problem. That leads me to conclude that he just thinks we ought to have more government-run healthcare and rationing."
Will the Debt Ceiling be Good for Gold and Silver?
Investors preparing for Washington's budget battle need to know: Will the debt ceiling be good for gold and silver?
Thanks to recent legislation passed in the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday, the debt ceiling could be extended until May 19. The bill now moves onto the Senate where it is expected to get the green light, then should be signed quickly by U.S. President Barack Obama.
That gives investors time to prepare for what any budget decision - or indecision - out of Washington will do for their investments.
While the bill leaves the government without a long-term budget strategy, investors ought to have a plan in place.
One thing they can plan on is higher silver and gold, and here's why.
Debt Ceiling Bill Includes Controversial "No Pay" Plan
Republicans will vote tomorrow (Wednesday) on a debt ceiling bill that will give Congress nearly four months to make some major budget decisions - or risk losing out on pay.
The bill aims "to ensure complete and timely payment of the obligations of the United States Government until May 19, 2013," according to a release Monday from the House Rules Committee. Exactly how much the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling will be lifted hasn't been discussed.
In a significant shift in GOP strategy, the legislation does not include specific spending cuts, like previously when Republicans have requested dollar-for-dollar cuts to match the debt ceiling increase.
What it could include is a requirement for both the House and Senate to pass a budget by as early as April 15 or have Congress members' salaries held in escrow until one is passed - what the GOP has coined a "no budget, no pay" rule.
"[I]f the Senate of House fails to pass a budget in that time, members of Congress will not be paid by the American people for failing to do their job. No budget, no pay," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-VA, said last week.
Ours is the Greatest Story Ever Written
Ask practically any American this week about their country, and they will likely tell you that - despite its faults - the United States is the greatest nation on earth.
I would even take it a step further by saying the United States is the greatest country there is, ever was, and ever will be...
But then again, I'm a bit of a homer.
Maybe it was all those World War II movies I watched with my great uncle when I was kid. He was an old sailor who was big on Admiral "Bull" Halsey, and by extension, so was I.
Or maybe it's because I'm much older now, and I realize just how dark the world would be without her. That much I am sure of.
But what I love most about my country is that it was founded on the idea that all men are created equal and are born with unalienable rights - among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Of course, Thomas Jefferson put those words much better than I ever could some 236 years ago when he penned the Declaration of Independence.
What you may not know is that Jefferson was just 33 years old when he sat down to the task of writing one of the most important documents of all time.
Chosen by John Adams for his "happy talent for composition and singular felicity of expression," it took Jefferson 17 days to complete under the apparent constant harassment of horseflies from a nearby barn. Being mid-June in Philadelphia, it was also undoubtedly quite warm.
I often wonder what that must have been like, using only an ink well, pen, and candlelight at night. Did Jefferson know his elegant phrasing and high tone would go on to forever change the world?
What was it like, that moment when he scratched out the word subjects and replaced it with the word citizens?
Was it a slip from a lifetime of habit... or Jefferson's first recognition that the people of his cause were no longer subjects of any nation- but citizens of an emerging democracy?
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