OVERNIGHT MONEY: Farm bill, budget conferences kicking off

WEDNESDAY'S BIG STORY:

Feast of conferences: Well, for those who have missed House-Senate conferences, they are back — and not just one but two — starting on Wednesday. 

The rare pair of conference committees will draw most of the attention on Capitol Hill, as lawmakers dig deep for compromises on major budget challenges and the farm bill.

In the hotly divided Congress, conference committees have been, well, unusual. But the drama of the government shutdown and the debt-limit fight seemed to snap lawmakers out of their no-conference mentality. 

The budget panel has until Dec. 13 to try and come up with an agreement, with deadlines set for January and February on the budget and debt limit. 

As the conference gets started, just about every trade group is weighing in on what the lawmakers should try to tackle — including tax and entitlement reform. 

For the farm bill, 41 lawmakers will set to the difficult task of merging dramatically different farm bills passed by the House and Senate into one piece of legislation.

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Food stamps and crop insurance stand out as the prickliest issues. 

There is a $35 billion gap between the two sides on food stamp spending — the House cuts about $40 billion, while the Senate a modest $4.5 billion over 10 years. 

Neither side seems willing to budge, but we'll see what they have to say in opening statements. 

There has been plenty of behind-the-scenes work on a five-year farm bill, which would take over for the measure that has been stuck in a cycle of extensions for more than a year. 

The White House has said that the farm bill is another top priority this year, and there is a reluctance from Senate Democrats to extend the bill instead of coming up with a longer-term solution. 

Another looming issue got a thumbs-down from a top House Democrat on Tuesday.

Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), ranking member of the Agriculture panel, said he is not keen to wrap farm policy into the broad budget conference and thinks that strategy would be a disaster for farmers.

"I am absolutely opposed to that," he said.

House Republicans last month passed a bill to cut food stamp funding by almost $40 billion over 10 years — a sharp contrast to the $4 billion cut in the Senate-passed bill the Democrats are championing.

In June, the Senate passed a five-year reauthorization bill, while House Republicans split their proposal, taking a separate vote on the $40 billion food stamp piece. No Democrats voted for either measure.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.) said Tuesday that "there's room for a bipartisan bill," but he said that hinges on the willingness of GOP leaders to bend toward the middle. 

"There is no Democrat who is going to vote for a $40 billion cut in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, period," Hoyer said during his weekly press conference in the Capitol. "Nor, I think, does any rational Republican think that that is the case."

 

WHAT ELSE WE'RE WATCHING

Fed in focus: It's that time again as the nation's top economic wonks huddle at the Federal Reserve to update monetary policy. 

The Fed shocked markets in September when it decided against a widely expected wind-down of central bank stimulus. Instead, staring at a potential government shutdown and debt-limit drama, the Fed opted to keep its foot on the gas and keep buying up bonds to boost the economy.

This time around, market watchers are not expecting a huge shock out of the Fed on Halloween Eve. For one, there is no press conference from Chairman Ben Bernanke after this meeting, making it more difficult for the Fed to chart a new policy path without a subsequent explanation to the public and markets. But more importantly, the Fed is still trying to sift through the mess of economic data that was upturned by the shutdown. 

The government is still catching up on economic indicators that were shuttered during the 16-day shutdown, and experts acknowledged that it could be months before the data settles down again after it has digested the turmoil of the temporary government closing.

The Fed has said it would lean heavily on economic data in charting its course for policy, so that muddied picture makes it that much less likely the central bank will take any major leap tomorrow.

Many economists estimate that the central bank might not consider a wind-down until December at least, although most think it will be more like March. 

Talking trade: On Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee will discuss the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership and lawmakers' top priorities for an agreement. A majority of House and Senate lawmakers are pushing for negotiators to include currency manipulation provisions.

President Obama and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman have said that their aim is to wrap up talks this year, although Froman has said he won't accept a bad deal in favor of meeting a deadline. The hearing could provide insight where lawmakers stand on crafting a bill for fast-track authority.

Ready to compete: Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker will deliver remarks at the National Competitiveness Forum at the Newseum in Washington on Wednesday. The event brings together public and private sector leaders to discuss the most critical competitiveness challenges and opportunities facing the United States.

Pritzker’s remarks will highlight the need for stronger support for infrastructure, research and a skilled workforce. She is expected to express support for immigration reform, a top priority for the White House. 

 

LOOSE CHANGE

Trade support: The New Democrat Coalition announced Tuesday that Chairman Ron Kind (D-Wis.) and Trade Task Force Co-Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) are partnering with Republican Reps. Dave Reichert (Wash.) and Charles Boustany (La.) to launch a bipartisan "Friends of TPP" Caucus.

U.S. and trade officials representing the 12-nation TPP welcomed the new group and said it "is reflective of the momentum gathering in support of the conclusion of the TPP negotiations this year."

 

ECONOMIC INDICATORS

MBA Mortgage Index: The Mortgage Bankers Association releases its weekly report on mortgage application volume.

ADP National Employment Report: Automatic Data Processing (ADP) will release its October report for private sector job growth.

GDP: The Commerce Department will release its first measure of the nation's economic activity for the third quarter. Second quarter growth increased at an annual rate of 2.5 percent. 

Consumer Price Index (CPI): The Labor Department releases its September report measuring the prices of a fixed market basket of goods and services purchased by consumers. The CPI is the most widely cited inflation indicator and it is used to calculate cost-of-living adjustments for government programs.      

 

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