OVERNIGHT MONEY: House tees up farm bill for passage

WEDNESDAY'S BIG STORY:

Plowing ahead: The House is set to pass a five-year $1 trillion farm bill compromise on Wednesday.

The nearly 1,000-page measure emerged on Monday after months of talks and is on the fast track to passage.

The legislation faces opposition from conservative groups — the Club for Growth and Heritage Action — because they say it does not make any strides in reforming the food stamp and other programs. 

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On Tuesday, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) predicted that Democrats will back the bill, although many liberals could vote against the measure because of $8 billion in cuts to the food stamp program, which is well below the $40 billion sought by Republicans.

"It's a much, much better bill than passed the House, and I think it'll pass," Hoyer said.

Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said he would oppose it because of the food stamp cut, and Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) expressed concern about it.

Democratic support is crucial for the bill's chances of passing.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) have said that they back the bill, but dozens of conservatives are expected to vote against it to protest spending levels they consider too high.

Also on Tuesday, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the measure amounts to $16.6 billion in savings over 10 years.

The deficit score falls below the $23 billion touted by leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture committees on Monday, but the committee said it uses a different starting point than the CBO and that their version still cuts that much.

The CBO said the new bill will cost $956 billion over 10 years. Most of the spending — $756 billion — is on food stamps.

If the bill passes, it heads to the Senate, where its chances seem pretty good that it will clear and head to President Obama for his signature. 

 

WHAT ELSE WE'RE WATCHING

Partings are such sweet sorrow: Ben Bernanke's eventful stint as head of the nation's central bank will draw to a close Wednesday, when the Federal Reserve wraps up its January policy meeting. Janet Yellen officially takes the reins on Feb. 1, but Wednesday's policy statement will mark his last major action as the economy's chief steward.

At least there's still some suspense. At the Fed's last meeting, Bernanke rolled out its slow and, hopefully, steady shrinkage of stimulus, as he said an improving economy could survive without that safety net. If the economy stays on track, Bernanke said the Fed would keep shrinking the size of its bond purchases each month, until they disappeared.

But since rolling out that plan, he was met with a disappointing December jobs report and a sell-off in the stock market, driving some speculation the Fed could hit the brakes.

As a result, there is still some intrigue attached to Bernanke's swan song, as markets yet again will watch for Wednesday afternoon's policy statement. But for those hoping for one last fix, you're out of luck: no press conference has been scheduled to follow this meeting.

Going, postal finally: The Senate Homeland Security Committee looks like it will — at long last — consider its postal reform bill on Wednesday.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) had delayed several previous markups of the bill he wrote with the panel’s top Republican, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), after finding out he needed to firm up support among committee members.

But even after a latest round of revisions to the measure, Carper and Coburn face opposition from key outside groups like the postal unions that are concerned about Saturday delivery and a required prepayment for future benefits. Industries that are among the Postal Service’s best customers — like the publishing and financial sectors — have also slammed a proposal that would lock in a temporary increase in stamp prices long-term.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), a previous skeptic of the measure, said Tuesday that Carper and Coburn had improved the bill. But Tester, who has sounded the alarm over how slower delivery standards would hurt people in his rural state, said that he remained neutral on the bill for now.

“The proof is going to be in the amendments that are put on and offered up as to whether I support it in the end,” Tester said. “The amendments that go on I think are going to be critically important.” 

Finance talk: A Senate Banking subcommittee will talk to Richard Berner, director of the Treasury's Office of Financial Research, about its annual report. The office serves the Financial Stability Oversight Council by conducting research about financial stability and promoting best practices in risk management.

 

ECONOMIC INDICATORS

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

 

WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

— Baucus says he's 'no real expert on China'

— Baucus set to become next ambassador to China

— Touting housing market recovery

— Boehner: 'Narrower' debt limit options

— Consumer confidence jumps in January

K Street getting a big boost

— House Dems fail to get vote on jobless benefits measure

 

Catch us on Twitter: @VickoftheHill, @peteschroeder, @elwasson and @berniebecker3

Tips and feedback, vneedham@thehill.com.  

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