By Bernie Becker, Peter Schroeder, Vicki Needham and Erik Wasson - 01/06/14 07:06 PM EST
Welcome back, Congress.
The U.S. Senate started off its 2014 slate with a bang of a first vote, confirming Janet Yellen to be the first female chairman of the Federal Reserve.
But with well over a dozen senators missing that vote, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) delayed a scheduled vote to extend expired long-term jobless benefits until Tuesday morning.
YELLENJanet Yellen, the vice chairwoman of the Fed, cleared a major procedural hurdle before the Senate broke for the holidays, and the chamber formally approved the pick Monday by a vote of 56 to 26.
Growing skepticism about the central bank, coupled with an increasingly toxic atmosphere in the Senate over nominees, set the stage for the growing dissent.
The current Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke, now keeps the record for most "no" votes, after 30 senators opposed him in 2010 when he sought a second term on the job. (For whatever it’s worth, Bernanke did get a slightly higher percentage of votes cast.)
So, either way, the last two votes for Fed chairman have set records for opposition of some sort.
Yellen takes on the job at a key time for the Fed. Within the institution, the central bank is trying to unwind years' worth of stimulus in a way that doesn't upend the economy or freak out markets. The Fed also wears another hat as a financial regulator, and it has its hands full implementing the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.
On the outside, the Fed is facing growing scrutiny on Capitol Hill, where House Republicans recently announced a top-to-bottom review of the institution.
But for now, Yellen can enjoy entering the history books.
UI:With the Senate not near full strength, Reid then surprised onlookers by delaying the unemployment insurance vote by about 16 hours — until 10 a.m. Tuesday.
But even with the extra time, Senate Democrats face an uphill climb in getting the five Republicans they need to back the measure.
Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) is a co-sponsor of the measure, and media reports suggest that Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) are at least on board for moving the bill forward.
But most Republicans have said that they’ll only consider extending the benefits — which expired for 1.3 million people late last month — if the costs are offset.
For instance, Tennessee’s two Republican senators — Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker — have come out against the current proposal, even though their state has a higher unemployment rate than the national average. Some GOP lawmakers also want an extension to be paired with measures aimed at creating jobs.
At the same time, Democrats have made it clear that they’re not going to drop this issue anytime soon, and they haven’t been shy in suggesting that this is a policy priority they also see as a political winner.
The jobless benefits allow Democrats to keep some attention away from ObamaCare, and to make their push against income inequality.
Still, should the vote go down on Tuesday morning, Democrats are likely to have to start dealing on pay-fors, even as they insist the benefits haven’t been offset in the past. Collins reportedly said that she told President Obama as much during a telephone chat on Monday.
WHAT ELSE WE’RE WATCHING:
Finish line for farm bill?: Top lawmakers are racing to complete the $1 trillion farm bill over the next two weeks, before Congress leaves town again for the Martin Luther King Jr., holiday.
The conference committee for the farm bill could meet as soon as Thursday, sources said, setting up floor action next week.
The top four negotiators — Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and the panels’ ranking members, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) — are set to brief lawmakers before releasing the details of a compromise between the House and Senate versions.
Key sticking points include the size and nature of food stamp cuts, the use of target-price-based supports and how to calculate a farmer's acreage risk for subsidies.
Farm bill savings have been rumored to be a potential offset for — you guessed it — an extension of the jobless benefits.
Across the pond: Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is scheduled to meet with President François Hollande of France on Tuesday, during the first leg of a three-day tour of Europe that will also include stops in Germany and Portugal.
The Financial Times reported this weekend that Lew will press the French for a “balanced growth strategy,” and the Germans to up their domestic demand. The Germans are unlikely to view that suggestion kindly, FT said.
Out the door: Make that two Ways and Means Republicans who aren’t sticking around for Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to (most likely) get the committee gavel.
Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.), one of the more centrist Republicans on the tax-writing committee and among the GOP Conference, announced he would not seek a seventh term this year.
Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.) had previously said he wouldn’t run for reelection. Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) has said he is going to continue to push for tax reform this year, but Gerlach said he sees little reason to believe that the current polarized Congress can achieve such big, substantive achievements.
Trade Balance: The Commerce Department releases its November data on exports and imports of U.S. goods and services.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED:
— Spending bill negotiators face heavy lift
—New IRS chief to battle for more funding
—Rep. King: Tie wage hike to regulatory rollback
—White House urges Congress to approve jobless aid
—Watt set to take helm as a top housing regulator
—House committee demands DOJ's 'platinum coin' analysis
—Club for Growth urges 'no' vote on extension of jobless benefits