House Financial Services sets busy March agenda

"We are committed to ensuring government policies promote, rather than hinder, a stronger economy and more jobs," said Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) "That means the committee will continue focusing on the need to end the bailouts of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which have already cost taxpayers $150 billion. It means we will fulfill our constitutional obligation to exercise rigorous oversight of the implementation of the Dodd-Frank Act and its impact on the economy, and it means we will pursue the elimination of unnecessary spending at a time of record deficits."

On March 1, the committee will welcome Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner for a discussion about reforming troubled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The administration recently recommended that the government-sponsored enterprises be wound down as the housing finance system gets a makeover, while committee Republicans have long called for their privatization as part of a broad effort to remove government influence from the housing market.

Later that day, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan will testify on his department's 2012 budget request. In the president's budget proposal unveiled Monday, HUD would receive $48 billion in gross budget authority, 1 percent below its 2010 level.

And Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will testify on the central bank's monetary policy March 2. Several Republicans have been critical of the Fed's recent policy decisions, including its move to buy $600 billion of Treasury bonds to boost private lending, as sowing the seeds of inflation.

The Capital Markets subcommitee will explore the budget of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on March 11. As part of their broad effort to cut spending, Republicans have pushed to reduce the agency's budget, while the president and Democrats are demanding hundreds of millions more to help the agency handle its expanded responsibilities after the Dodd-Frank financial reform law was enacted.

SEC Chairwoman Mary Schapiro has similarly warned that her current budget is too small to handle the agency's work. That plea thus far has not won over the GOP, whose members have criticized the agency for missing warning signs leading up to the financial crisis and the Bernie Madoff scandal, while suggesting the agency was not efficiently using the dollars it's already been given.

Another Republican target, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), will be the subject of a Financial Institutions subcommittee hearing on March 16. Republicans have argued since the CFPB was created as part of Dodd-Frank that the new agency lacks proper congressional oversight, and have also complained that its funding falls outside the regular congressional appropriations process.

And Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) will get another swing at the Fed pinata on March 17. The Domestic Monetary Policy subcommittee he chairs will explore monetary policy and whether it is causing rising prices. Paul is a longtime Fed critic who has argued the central bank should be abolished, and previously held a hearing to bash the Fed on Feb. 9.

The schedule also carves out two days, March 3 and March 15, for legislative markups. The former is for "bills to be determined," the latter for budget views and estimates under the panel's jurisdiction.