OVERNIGHT MONEY: Push for federal jobless benefits heats up

THURSDAY'S BIG STORY:

Jobless benefits push: The House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee will hold a hearing Thursday morning on the looming expiration of federal emergency unemployment benefits. 

House and Senate Democrats have introduced legislation that would provide for a yearlong reauthorization of the federal program that is available in all states, except North Carolina, and sets in once a worker has exhausted his or her state-level benefits, in most cases at around six months. 

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The program is set to lapse Dec. 28, leaving 1.3 million long-term unemployed workers without a weekly check. 

Democrats are adamant the program be continued while the national unemployment rate remains above 7 percent. 

The hearing will include Democratic lawmakers, including House Ways and Means Committee ranking member Rep. Sandy Levin (Mich.), who is leading the charge in the lower chamber, as well as Americans who would be affected by an expiration of the program.

The Congressional Budget Office said on Tuesday that the program would cost $25.7 billion and create 200,000 jobs next year. 

But Republicans, so far, have been cool to the idea of continuing it for another year. 

House Ways and Means Committee Republicans have highlighted the five-year length and more than $252 billion cost of the program. 

At its height, in some states, the long-term unemployed could get up to 99 weeks of benefits.

The program was last reauthorized as part of the fiscal-cliff deal done early this year. As part of that agreement, benefits were set to curtail at a faster rate.

The number of weeks is based on a three-month average of state unemployment rates, with benefits decreasing as the jobless rate declines. 

Democrats, including House Budget Committee ranking member Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), along with Levin and others, have sought to add the reauthorization to any budget deal that emerges from the conference committee, especially with time running out on the legislative calendar. 

The House is scheduled to head out of town for the Christmas holidays on Dec. 13. 

The White House is on board, too, with Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, saying that the Obama administration is willing to work with lawmakers toward finding the necessary offsets for the program.

When the program was first authorized in 2008, the unemployment rate was 5.6 percent and has been reauthorized or expanded 11 times.

In September, 1.4 million workers, or only 34 percent of all the long-term unemployed, received federal unemployment benefits. 

 

WHAT ELSE WE'RE WATCHING

Financial reform: Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will be talking up financial reform on Thursday morning, as regulators put the finishing touches on a key component of the Dodd-Frank reform law. 

Lew will discuss the Wall Street overhaul at the Pew Charitable Trusts, while pushing for beefier budgets for watchdogs and laying out the regulatory blueprint for 2014. 

His comments will come days before a host of financial regulators are set to sign off on the Volcker Rule, a central and contentious chunk of Dodd-Frank aimed at cracking down on risky trading by banks. 

Work on finalizing the rule has been years in the making, as regulators have sifted through thousands of comments weighing in on the proposal. 

Lew will be introduced by Sheila Bair, former head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and a “too big to fail” critic.

Improving skills: Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Labor Secretary Tom Perez will deliver remarks at the White House Labor and Management Summit on Thursday about how federal agencies can better work together to help U.S. workers improve their skills for the future labor market. 

China to Seoul: Vice President Biden will spend part of the day in Beijing making remarks at the American Chamber of Commerce and at the U.S.-China Business Council in Beijing. He also will meet with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao. In the afternoon, he will leave China to head for Seoul, South Korea, for a series of meetings with the nation's leaders. 

Biden had a full day on Wednesday in Beijing, meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping to discuss a wide range of issues, from security to economics.

The leaders discussed the outcomes of the third plenum, such as interest-rate liberalization and reform, multi-access issues and fair-competition.  

"The vice president sought more granularity about what these mean on what time frame and in what manner, and suggested to Xi that reforms along these lines are the kinds of things that can really help deepen and strengthen the U.S.-China bilateral economic relationship, as well," a senior administration official said Wednesday. 

"But he also made the point that some of these reforms are going to take years to implement, and that we also need to be making progress in the here and now on difficult issues — WTO-related issues, issues related to silver-dumping cases, issues related to electronic payment services and other things along those lines."

The spotlight will shine bright again when Biden gets to Korea, which recently expressed interest in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Negotiators of the 12-nation Asia-Pacific trade deal are set to meet again later this week in Singapore in an effort to complete the deal. 

Leaders have said they want to wrap up talks before the end of the year but that there are still a slew of complex issues yet to be resolved. 

A coalition of U.S. automakers said Wednesday that U.S. trade officials should use Korea's interest in the TPP as leverage to "address Korea’s frequent interventions in currency markets and to address market access issues U.S. automakers still encounter in Korea despite the implementation" of the Korea-U.S. trade deal completed in 2011.

"The prospect of including Korea in the TPP reinforces the importance of including strong and enforceable currency provisions in the agreement," said American Automotive Policy Council President Matt Blunt.

Blunt has joined labor unions, business groups and and a bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers in pressing U.S. trade officials to ensure that currency manipulation provisions are included in any final TPP agreement.

"It is critical the TPP include meaningful currency disciplines to ensure that current and future TPP members, especially those with a history of intervening in currency markets, do not use that tool to undermine market access commitments," Blunt said. 

Small-business lending: A House Small Business subcommittee will explore the lending environment for small businesses during the economic recovery with a variety of representatives of smaller financial institutions.

 

BUDGET UPDATE

Getting close: Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee, and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) are getting close to budget deal. 

“We are closer every hour,” Murray said on Wednesday. 

Ryan and Murray are trying to meet a looming Dec. 13 deadline for reaching a deal to reconcile the vastly different House and Senate budget resolutions. 

“We are still talking,” Ryan said after the meeting in the Capitol. 

The two lawmakers are seeking an agreement to replace part of the $91 billion in sequester cuts that set to go into effect next year. The cuts would hit defense spending and domestic programs.

Federal pensions: Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), chairwoman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, wants a budget deal that turns off $91 billion in sequester cuts to the discretionary accounts under her committee's purview.

The cuts are particularly important to Mikulski, who represents at least 300,000 federal workers, and a sequester replacement deal on the table could force those workers to pay more for retirement.

Moving target: Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said Wednesday the real deadline for the budget conference is Jan. 15, not mid-December. 

The No. 3 House Democrat expressed optimism that an agreement could be reached this month, but he figures January is probably more realistic.

Government funding is scheduled to run out Jan. 15.

 

FARM BILL UPDATE

Inching toward a deal: Top farm bill negotiators emerged from their first face-to-face meeting in nearly two weeks on Wednesday more optimistic they will reach an agreement.

“Staff are doing some work on specifics and scores and so on, but we are making great progress,” said Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) agreed that a deal is within reach.

“We have made great progress, we have more progress to make,” he said.

Negotiators were mum on exactly what was discussed, but they said that all titles of the $1 trillion measure were under discussion, including food stamps. 

The House and Senate are some $35 billion apart on food stamp cuts in the bill, and Senate Democrats have been trying to hold the line at only $4 billion in cuts. 

“We are narrowing differences in every part of the bill,” Stabenow told reporters.

 

LOOSE CHANGE

Economic recovery: A Federal Reserve survey released Wednesday showed that the nation's economy held steady with moderate growth through the 16-day government shutdown in October, growing moderately in most regions from October through late November.

The Fed's Beige Book said seven of its 12 banking districts described growth as moderate. Four — Philadelphia, Chicago, Kansas City and San Francisco — said growth was modest. Boston said its regional economy continued to expand.

Manufacturing strengthened in most districts, helped by more production of automobiles.

Santos visit: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce chatted on Wednesday with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos about how to drive growth and development in his country and across the region.

"President Santos is defining a new reality of growth and prosperity for Colombia and a new pathway for global competitiveness for the Americas,” said Thomas Donohue, president of the Chamber.

"Over the past decade, Colombia has undergone an extraordinary transformation in terms of improved security, economic growth and social development," he said.

"We look forward to continuing to work with the Santos administration and the Colombian business community to seize our shared opportunities and to address our common challenges.”

Service sector slows: The Institute for Supply Management's measure of service-sector growth slowed to 53.9 in November from 55.4 in October, according to the Wednesday report.

The sector employs 90 percent of all workers, including those at restaurants, hotels and retailers, and its fluctuations can signal whether consumers and businesses will increase or pull back their spending. 

Readings above 50 percent signal expansion. 

 

ECONOMIC INDICATORS

Initial claims: The Labor Department will release its weekly filings for jobless benefits, which have hit pre-recession lows. 

GDP: The Commerce Department will release on Thursday its second estimate for the nation’s economic growth for the July-September period. Estimates are that the figure could eclipse 3 percent, up from the initial figure of 2.8 percent.

Challenger job cuts: The Chicago-based firm will release its report on the number of jobs cuts that are planned by U.S. employers in November.   

 

WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

— 36 Dems go against Obama, support Dodd-Frank fix

— Obama: 'Profoundly unequal' economy a 'fundamental threat'

— Wall Street groups sue CFTC on foreign derivatives crackdown

— New home sales rebound in October

— Treasury moves to close offshore loophole

— Three Republicans join House Appropriations Committee 

— After criticism, Warren calls on banks to go public with think tank financing

— CEOs optimistic about 2014

— Dem: ‘Time to face up’ to gas tax hike

— US trade deficit drops on energy exports

— DC pushes toward higher minimum wage

— Private sector added 215,000 jobs in November

 

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