FRIDAY'S BIG STORY:
Home for the holidays: That's where the House is headed after passing a two-year budget deal on Thursday night.
But plenty of Democrats are leaving Washington frustrated that Republicans would not consider a short-term extension of unemployment insurance (UI) benefits.
In the past, during brief lapses, parts of the federal program have always remained partially intact.
But not this time.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said his chamber will vote on the continuation, with a retroactive component, when the Senate returns in January.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday that the administration "absolutely expects" Congress to take up an extension of unemployment benefits after the holidays and "we would expect them to act as soon as possible upon their return."
House Ways and Means Committee ranking member Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), who was one of 32 Democrats to vote against the budget deal, arrived on the House floor Thursday with an empty box, arguing that while Democrats had offered up ideas to continue the benefits program, Republicans had failed to respond.
Democrats took to the floor in droves to lobby for a way to include a continuation, and as the chances flew by to pass the bill before the holidays, they turned to Republicans for a reason as to why they wouldn't bring up the bill.
"And so what's been the response? The answer from House Republicans is this: an empty box," Levin said.
Democrats were angered further on Wednesday when Republicans decided to attach a three-month Medicare "doc fix" into the budget deal, leaving UI high and dry.
House Democratic leaders had said that lawmakers shouldn't leave town until it gets done but it became crystal clear this week that it was going to be an impossible hurdle to scale.
The benefits provide upward of 73 weeks of checks for those who have been out of work for at least six months. Only two states get the maximum amount — Nevada and Illinois — because their jobless rates are above 9 percent.
As the House moved faster toward its holiday break, the White House and House Democrats reduced their offer of a yearlong $25 billion reauthorization to three months, including offsets.
But Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the offers didn't meet his standards.
“When the White House finally called me last Friday about extending unemployment benefits, I said we would clearly consider it, as long as it’s paid for, and as long as there are other efforts to help get our economy moving once again," Boehner said. "I have not seen a plan from the White House that meets those standards.”
Advocates for the program were equally baffled.
"The House Republicans have not settled on a story as to why they couldn't find it in their hearts to reauthorize federal UI," Judy Conti, federal advocacy coordinator at the National Employment Law Project, told The Hill on Thursday.
We'll have to see what happens over the holidays and if there is a way to break the impasse to restart the program when everyone returns in January.
WHAT ELSE WE'RE WATCHING
Baucus ends with a bang: Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) is hoping to release at least one more tax reform discussion draft before the chamber breaks for the year, according to aides and K Street chatter.
The committee has yet to release details on Baucus's plans, but lobbyists think he might be considering an energy draft.
The Senate is expected to stay in Washington until the end of next week. Baucus released three drafts last month in an attempt to push the ball forward on tax reform, to the dismay of Republicans on his committee.
Baucus and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) have had problems boosting momentum for tax reform in recent weeks and months.
And while the new budget deal has lawmakers applauding some fresh bipartisanship, some congressional tax writers also aren't necessarily seeing any new momentum for tax reform, from either that agreement or the Baucus drafts.
Koskinen time: President Obama's choice for perhaps the most thankless job in Washington — IRS commissioner — is expected to sail through the Senate Finance Committee on Friday.
Senators from both parties largely complimented John Koskinen, the former Freddie Mac executive tapped by Obama this summer, in his confirmation hearing this week — in many cases discussing issues with the nominee as if he was a shoo-in to take over an agency still reeling from its targeting controversy.
Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said this week that he was rushing to get the nomination through the committee this week to give the full Senate a chance to approve Koskinen before the end of the year. Given the fallout from the Democrats' invoking of the nuclear option, it remains to be seen whether a final confirmation will be put on hold until next year.
Still, Republican senators also made clear this week that they're no fans of proposed new IRS regulations on tax-exempt groups, underscoring how difficult the job will be once Koskinen actually gets to IRS headquarters.
Koskinen vowed this week to restore taxpayer trust in the agency following the targeting of Tea Party groups, and to successfully implement the IRS's part of the Affordable Care Act. He also asked lawmakers for more robust funding for the agency.
Siddiqui set to depart trade office: U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said Thursday that his office will lose a key trade deal negotiator.
Froman said chief agricultural negotiator Islam Siddiqui, who has served in the Obama administration since 2010, will leave early next year.
"On behalf of the president and all of us at USTR, I want to thank Ambassador Siddiqui for his service," Froman said.
Froman said that since President Obama took office, "USTR has achieved great wins for American farmers and ranchers."
"Siddiqui has been a key part of our team from the beginning will be missed not only by his colleagues in Washington but by counterparts around the world," he said.
"He played a key role in the Panama, Colombi and Korea FTAs as well as progress on a variety of bilateral, plurilateral and multilateral issues, most recently the successful WTO outcome in Bali this week.”
Producer price index (PPI): The Labor Department will release its November report that tracks the prices of goods at the wholesale level. The market tracks PPI closely because it represents prices for goods that are ready to sell to consumers.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
— Boehner lashes at conservative groups: 'They've lost all credibility'
— Pelosi a ‘yes’ on budget deal
— Spending panel chiefs begin talks to avoid shutdown in January
— 30-day farm bill extension clears House
— House to leave for year Thursday
— Durbin: We need GOP votes for deal
— Tea Party Rep.: Budget deal 'will not necessarily' avoid government shutdown
— House advances budget bill
— Merrill Lynch to pay $131 million settlement
— Judd Gregg steps down at Wall Street group
— Camp: No capital gains hike in tax reform plan
— Jobless claims jump after Thanksgiving holiday
— JPMorgan to pay $2B in Madoff Case
— Volcker’s release sets stage for big fights
— Paul Ryan says Marco Rubio should 'read the deal and get back to me'
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