OVERNIGHT MONEY: Senatorial intrigue

No one in the Capitol believes that either the GOP measure or the Democratic alternative will get the 60 votes it needs in the chamber. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and his fellow Democrats want to put Republican centrists on the spot and prove that the House bill has no path forward through their chamber.

The Senate GOP had been frantically counting votes Tuesday afternoon, as Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the minority leader, tried to avoid the embarrassing situation of having more centrist members of his conference vote against the House bill.

Of course, these events are all happening as the time to reconcile the two spending measures is running thin, with the government set to run out of funds on March 19.

WHAT ELSE TO WATCH FOR:

Bringing the hammer on HAMP?: The House Financial Services Committee is set on Wednesday to mark up two measures that would shutter the Obama administration’s big-ticket housing relief program — the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) — and other housing initiatives. 

HAMP has helped around 600,000 homeowners modify their mortgages, well short of the original estimates of as many as three to four million. But the administration has been adamant about the vital role it plays in the economic recovery — and if last week's high-volume markup was any indication, expect Democrats to fight tooth and nail against these two bills tomorrow.

Republicans on the Financial Services panel pushed two similar bills through the committee last week, both of which are expected to be considered on the House floor by week’s end — and both of which have received veto threats from the Obama administration.

Speaking of housing: The Senate Banking Committee will put its own microscope on the issue at a Wednesday hearing. 

Lawmakers are expected to hear about how the fledgling economic recovery will affect the housing market from top officials at the National Association of Home Builders and the National Association of Realtors. And if recent economic data like home prices and mortgage rates are any indication, it won't be a pretty picture.

We’re waiting…: For a timetable on the stalled Panama and Colombian free-trade agreements, that is. 

Ron Kirk, the U.S. trade representative, is set to appear before the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday, with the panel’s chairman, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), and ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). Both are pressing for a clearer picture on when the Panama and Colombia pacts might be submitted to Congress. 

If Kirk does more to spell out the process, it will be big news, as moving those two deals is seen by many as the key to unlocking a stalled U.S. trade agenda. (Why? See the GOP’s reaction on Monday to the administration’s announcement that it was one step closer to submitting the South Korean trade agreement.)

Kirk — rumored to be in the running for the Commerce secretary job, with Gary Locke on his way to China — is also expected to update the committee on the stalled Doha world-trade talks, which has been on its deathbed for years, and the slow moving Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade area talks with South American and Asian countries.

Also on the Hill: Reps. John Larson (D-Conn.) and Kevin Brady (R-Texas) are among the lawmakers expected to attend a Wednesday morning unveiling of a bill that early reports say looks to increase and make permanent a prominent tax credit for research and development. (President Obama also called for giving R&D a boost in his recently released budget for fiscal 2012.)

Economic indicators:

—The Mortgage Bankers Association is set to release its weekly applications survey.

—The Census Bureau is scheduled to circulate January trade data.

—The Labor Department is slated to drop December figures on employer costs for employee compensation.

—The Energy Information Administration is scheduled to release its “Week in Petroleum.”


BREAKING TUESDAY:

Add it to the list: Americans lost more confidence in their financial institutions than people in other countries, The Wall Street Journal reports, relying on a new analysis from the University of Pennsylvania. 

That would seem to add another hurdle to the economy’s bid to get humming: Trust is apparently closely correlated to someone’s willingness to make financial transactions. 

Needing air: Nearly one in four mortgaged homes were underwater during 2010’s fourth quarter, The Associated Press reports. Because more homes had been foreclosed on, that underwater figure had fallen during the first three quarters of last year. 

A retort on trade: Remember that letter that most House GOP freshman members sent to the president, backing swift action on the trade pacts with South Korea, Colombia and Panama?

Well, so do Tea Party groups and Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty. And they’re not so happy, chiding the GOP freshmen about that support in a letter of their own. “Simply, if free trade comes with a price tag of the Constitution, then the cost is too high,” the note reads. 


WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED:

On the Money’s Tuesday:

—Fiscal commission co-chairmen Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson go equal opportunity on ripping Washington budget plans. 

—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is with the House on at least one thing: How to pay for the 1099 repeal.

—Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) remains a no-go on Peter Diamond’s nomination to the Fed Board of Governors.

—A group of Senate Republicans are pushing to make joining a union more of a choice

—Former adviser to Arizona Sen. John McCain (R) tells GOP to embrace raising the debt ceiling. 

Covered bonds? Yes, say a bipartisan pair in the House.

Pass-throughs? Not so much, says Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.).

—The IRS can do a better job watching over its investigative equipment.

—And regulator vs. regulator: The currency comptroller calls debit card rules “unnecessarily narrow.”