OVERNIGHT MONEY: Looking at Lerner

WEDNESDAY’S BIG STORY:

The House Ways and Means Committee will start turning up the heat on the IRS and former agency official Lois Lerner on Wednesday, by asking the Justice Department to look into potential criminal charges against Lerner.

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A House aide said Tuesday that Republicans believe Lerner misled a Treasury inspector general looking into the case, disclosed taxpayer information and improperly pushed the IRS to move against conservative groups.

Lerner, who worked at the IRS for about a dozen years before retiring last September, was the first agency official to apologize for the IRS’s improper scrutiny of Tea Party groups last May.

The Justice Department started looking into the IRS’s treatment of those groups just days after the controversy broke, and reports from months ago suggesting that federal investigators were unlikely to charge anyone in the case.

But House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) is also one of just a handful of officials with access to certain confidential taxpayer information, and the House aide said their referral to Attorney General Eric Holder would likely have information previously unavailable to the Justice Department.

Ways and Means will consider whether to refer the case to Holder largely behind closed doors on Wednesday morning. But if — and, most likely, when — they decide to make the referral, the committee’s letter to Holder will likely be made public.

For Lerner, Wednesday’s only the start of what will likely be a difficult couple of days. On Thursday, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and his Oversight Committee will begin the House’s efforts to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has fully backed that move, which would eventually give the full House a chance to go on the record on Lerner this election year.

Democrats and Lerner’s lawyer, Bill Taylor of Zuckerman Spaeder, have accused Republicans of using the case against Lerner to rile up the GOP base.

 

WHAT ELSE WE’RE WATCHING:

Jobs Act 2: Regulatory Boogaloo: The House Financial Services Committee will be taking a long hard at financial regulations for start-ups tomorrow, as it seeks to rustle up a sequel to last Congress’s JOBS Act. 

That law, which trimmed rules to make it easier for new companies to raise cash, was a rare bipartisan achievement in the last Congress.

Republicans hoping for a repeat performance have introduced no fewer than seven pieces of legislation to be considered by a Financial Services subcommittee. They’ll be chatting about the proposals with a panel of experts.

Got a minute: The Federal Reserve will be out with the minutes of its March meeting, sending Fed-watchers scurrying for any further nuggets of insight as the central bank continues its “taper.”

The Fed shook off the winter doldrums in March and stuck with its plan of slowly winding down its bond purchases, and followed the meeting with Janet Yellen’s first-ever press conference as Fed chief. Tomorrow’s minutes will be dissected for hints about when the Fed might consider raising interest rates, now that the stimulus era is drawing to a close.

CAP chat: Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) will be heading to the Center for American Progress Wednesday for a little trade chat. The top Democrat on House Ways and Means will be discussing the Trans-Pacific Partnership and what it might mean for U.S. economic competitiveness.

Always be appropriating: House and Senate appropriators will be hard at work tomorrow, with a slew of hearings lined up. 

In the Senate, Gina McCarthy, the Environmental Protection Agency chief, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Labor Secretary Thomas Perez will be chatting with subcommittees. The Defense subcommittee will also be marking up spending legislation for defense health programs.

In the House, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Sylvia Mathews Burwell, President Obama’s budget director, will be testifying. The full panel will be marking up fiscal 2015 funding bills for military construction and veterans affairs, and for the legislative branch, in what’s an earlier start than usual for the spending measures.

CFTC convo: The House Agriculture Committee will gather tomorrow to discuss legislation to reauthorize the Commodity Futures Trading Commission for another five years. The legislation, blessed by top members of both parties, would also make a few tweaks to the financial regulator. 

Thinking small: The House Small Business Committee is hosting a hearing tomorrow devoted to tax problems for, you guessed it, small businesses. Meanwhile, panel Democrats will be releasing a report criticizing the budget from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) for cutting assistance for, you guessed it, small businesses. 

 

LOOSE CHANGE

Red marks: Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) got a little ammunition from the Government Accountability Office for his push to help shield taxpayers from unscrupulous or incompetent preparers.

As USA Today notes, the GAO went undercover on 19 paid preparers this year. What did they get? Seventeen incorrectly filled out returns, with one refund being more than $3,700 too much.

The IRS had tried to increase its oversight of unlicensed preparers, but has gotten shot down by federal courts.  

 

ECONOMIC INDICATORS 

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

Wholesale Inventories: The Commerce Department will release its February wholesale trade report that includes sales and inventory statistics from the second stage of the manufacturing process. The sales figures say close to nothing about personal consumption and therefore do not move the market.            

 

WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

—   Union to House: Give transit riders a bigger tax break 

—   GAO: Government overlap costing billions 

—   Obama: Wage gap ‘is not a myth, it’s math’ 

—   GOP: Here’s how Lerner broke the law

—   Massad moves a step closer to leading CFTC

—   House RSC budgets cuts spending by $7.4 trillion, includes chained CPI 

—   Van Hollen details differences between House Dem, Obama budgets 

—   Fed puts Wall Street under stress 

 

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