This week: Yellen takes hot seat

Janet Yellen this week will testify before Congress for the first time as head of the Federal Reserve.

Roughly a week after being sworn in as the world’s most powerful central banker, Yellen is set to testify before a pair of congressional panels about the Fed’s activities. House lawmakers, including many Republicans hotly critical of the bank’s policies, will get the first crack.

The House Financial Services Committee is full of Fed skeptics, including Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), so Yellen could be in for a grilling. The panel is conducting a yearlong review of the Fed’s structure and powers with an eye toward reform legislation.

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Yellen steps into the congressional spotlight at a key moment. The central bank is trying to wind down its massive monthly bond purchases, without upsetting the economy.

The last two jobs reports, which have both come up short of expectations, are driving speculation the Fed might want to hit the brakes on that exit and keep up its stimulus efforts. Yellen could be pressed on that issue during the hearing.

On Thursday, Yellen will make an appearance before the Senate Banking Committee, the same panel that held her confirmation hearing last year.

House Republicans next week will continue coming up with a legislative strategy on the debt ceiling. GOP leaders say they cannot pass a bill with only Republican votes, and are now looking for a proposal that could secure Democratic support. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said the chamber could vote on it next week, assuming a deal is struck.

Meanwhile, Democrats are holding firm on their stance that nothing can be attached to a debt-limit boost. The nation reached its borrowing cap on Friday, after it was suspended following the government shutdown last year.

On Tuesday, the Senate Budget Committee will talk about the nation’s fiscal health with Douglas Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO updated its long-term outlook earlier this month, and set off a hot debate over ObamaCare’s economic impact.

That fight is likely to continue in the Senate: Republicans call the healthcare law a job-killer, while Democrats contend the improved safety net will free people who once feared losing employer-based coverage.

The Senate Finance Committee is set for a makeover next week. Gone is Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who is headed to China as America’s ambassador. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is ready to take his place, but needs approval from his colleagues. 

No drama is expected, however, which means Wyden will be wielding the powerful gavel soon.

The House is in for another abbreviated week, as House Democrats head to a private policy retreat in the second half of the week. House Republicans did the same at the end of January.

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