Good grief. Just when President Clinton was bragging in his 11th hour that the economy has never been in better shape, his successor has to bring us down to reality.
President Bush's warnings this week that the United States is facing the most serious energy shortages since the 1970s, with "no short-term fixes" on the horizon, followed by Tuesday's announcement that the U.S. trade deficit has widened to the second-highest level on record, is tough medicine for Americans to swallow, particularly when job layoffs continue around the country.
So are we in a recession yet?
"My grandfather, Finnigan, used to have an expression," recalls Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., a Delaware Democrat who grew up in Scranton, Pa.
"He would say: When the fellow in Throop - that was a community south of Scranton - loses his job, it
means there is an economic slowdown. When your brother-in-law loses a job, it means there is a recession. When you lose your job, it means there is a depression."
Americans are being warned to expect higher prices at the gas pump for the second summer in a row, thanks in part to a second round of oil-production cuts in as many months by OPEC, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.
Already-steep gas prices in Washington, coupled with the second-worst traffic congestion in the country, have some members of Congress exploring alternative modes of transportation.
"As somebody who brought a bicycle to Washington, D.C., instead of a car when I was elected five years ago, I can testify that for the vast majority of my meetings around Washington, D.C., I will beat my colleagues who take cabs or their cars," says 52-year-old Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.)
"The bicycle," says the member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure ground transportation subcommittee, "is the most efficient means of transportation that has ever been devised. Unlike the horse or automobile, there is no pollution generated from cycling. It leaves the cyclist healthier, and the cyclist takes up a fraction of the roadway."
It's a touchy subject, but Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo, in his second term from Colorado, says the United States can no longer "absorb" the number of immigrants welcomed to the country.
"The immigration into this country over the last 10 years has been extraordinary," says Tancredo. "We must begin the debate, although it is a difficult one, we must begin the debate on exactly what this country will look like. How many people are we going to let in here, both legally and illegally?"
He cites the tremendous financial costs of handling immigrants, infrastructure development, schooling, housing and social services.
Last week, Georgia's senior senator, Democrat Max Cleland, called attention on the Senate floor to the rapid growth of the Hispanic population in his state.
"In 1991," Cleland revealed, "the Hispanic population in Dalton, Georgia, was only 4 percent. And now, 10 years later, Hispanic enrollment in Dalton public schools has skyrocketed to 51 percent." Almost half the recent arrivals, he says, continue to speak Spanish.
SHAPING A PRESIDENT
Congratulating volunteers for distributing over a quarter of a million books to children across Massachusetts, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy recalls that his mother, Rose Kennedy, "read for endless hours to all nine of us" Kennedy children.
"When President Kennedy was young," his brother recalled, "two of his favorite books were 'Billy
Whiskers' and 'King Arthur and the Round Table.' "
Number of televised political ads aired by presidential and congressional candidates during the 2000 election: 839,243.