WEDNESDAY’S BIG STORY
Who says Congress can’t surprise you?
The Senate pushed forward a bill that would extend expired jobless benefits on Tuesday, after Democrats had appeared to struggle to find Republicans to join them.
The 60-37 vote sets up more likely floor action later this week, but doesn’t clear all of the hurdles toward extending the benefits that lapsed for 1.3 million unemployed people last month.
That process started with more than a few bumps on Tuesday, with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) continuing to put the onus on the White House to find a pay-for and for pairing the extension with other policies aimed at job creation.
In the post-nuclear-option Senate, where feelings remain bruised, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) derided one early GOP suggestion for an offset – “whacking ObamaCare” – as unserious.
Republicans, seeking to end eight years in the Senate minority, are trying to defuse the issue – part of the reason six GOP senators backed the measure on Tuesday. House Republican leaders also circulated a memo this week giving their members key talking points, according to The Washington Post.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Driving the bus: That self-imposed Jan. 15 deadline for finishing off a 2014 spending bill is looking increasingly dicey.
The two Appropriations chairmen – Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) – had hoped to have a $1 trillion omnibus ready for release by Wednesday. But some familiar knotty issues, including ObamaCare and Dodd-Frank, have proven difficult to overcome.
Mikulski said the chances of getting a measure done by Wednesday were “a fading dream,” and that a deal could be announced as late as the weekend.
“You have two houses, you have parties within the parties, this is really complicated,” Mikulski told reporters. “This is not a linear process. It’s more like an amoeba."
Chamber time: The head of the nation’s largest business lobby will make his mark on 2014 on Wednesday. Thomas Donohue, president and chief executive of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, will deliver his annual remarks on the state of American business.
Donohue’s speech will hit some familiar themes, according to excerpts released by the Chamber: increasing foreign trade and domestic energy production, improving infrastructure, and making changes to entitlement programs and ObamaCare.
Plus, Donohue, who will answer reporter questions as well, will press for changes to a regulatory regime that dates back to Harry Truman.
But Donohue, according to the preview, is also going to push to ensure that immigration reform reaches President Obama’s desk in 2014, and promise to increase the Chamber’s efforts on education reforms.
Rubio on poverty: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) will dive into the debate over poverty and income inequality tomorrow with a speech at the American Enterprise Institute.
His remarks will come on the 50th anniversary of former President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s so-called war on poverty. Rubio is looking to build the conservative case for rebuilding anti-poverty programs and finding a way to boost income mobility from the right.
The speech gives Rubio the chance to regain some of the shine he lost in GOP and conservative circles last year – and Republicans a chance to highlight their own ideas to battle poverty, at a time Democrats are pounding the issue of income inequality.
What does the Fed say?: The Federal Reserve will give the public a peek on Wednesday into its December decision to begin the much-anticipated “taper” of its economic stimulus program.
The minutes of the two-day meeting that began the taper should offer a closer look into the thinking behind the decision to begin reducing the size of the purchases – and, per usual, will be pored over in Washington and on Wall Street for hints about the road ahead.
Look – TBTF’s back: Senators will continue poking at the “too big to fail” debate at the Banking Committee Wednesday, with a subcommittee hearing that explores whether big banks are enjoying an edge thanks to an implicit government backstop.
In other words: Are the big boys better off because the government would again step in to save the day if they were facing collapse?
The Government Accountability Office has completed one of two studies on the matter requested by some Senate skeptics who doubt the “too big to fail” era is truly over. That first study, released in November, found that big banks did have an easier time borrowing money than smaller counterparts. Representatives from the GAO and Federal Reserve will be on hand to testify, as well as several top economists.
Bipartisanship!: Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) will continue touting their plan for overhauling the housing market Wednesday. The duo will sit down with the Financial Services Roundtable – headed by former Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-Minn.) – to talk about their efforts to get Congress to make changes in the wake of the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bailouts.
Bread with Bernanke: Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is expected to lunch with Senate Democrats on Thursday, just weeks before he departs, Bloomberg reports. The Senate confirmed Bernanke’s replacement, Janet Yellen, on Monday.
ADP will release its report on December private-sector job growth on Wednesday.
The report should provide a preview of Friday’s broader government measure of December employment figures.
Private-sector employment increased by 215,000 jobs in November, according to ADP. The Labor Department's report showed the addition of 203,000 jobs, while the unemployment rate dropped to 7 percent – a sign of an improved labor market.
MBA Mortgage Index: The Mortgage Bankers Association releases its weekly report on mortgage application volume.
Consumer Credit: The Federal Reserve releases its November measure of consumer debt.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED:
— Reid: Cut to military pensions could be addressed in omnibus
— JPMorgan pays $1.7B to settle Madoff charges
— Corporate group urges continued tax reform action
— NAFTA freight shipping tops $100 billion