OVERNIGHT FINANCE: Yellen returns to Capitol Hill

WEDNESDAY'S BIG STORY:

She’s back: Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen is back on the Hill this week, as she lays out her vision for the economy amid a mixed bag of data.

The head of the central bank is set to testify before the Joint Economic Committee on Wednesday, followed by an encore performance at the Senate Budget Committee on Thursday.

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Per usual, lawmakers will prod her for more information on the tapering of the Fed’s massive stimulus program and what will prompt the central bank to hike interest rates.

But they also will likely want her expert take on what exactly is going on with the economy.

Her testimony comes as policymakers are trying to digest the latest mix of economic news that provides more signals that the U.S. and global economies are beginning to click on all cylinders.

The paltry report of 0.1 percent first quarter economic growth was a blow to economic hopes.

But most economists say that much of the drag during the first three months of the year was from temporary factors, including the weather, and that once shed it should free up the economy for acceleration.

The April jobs report may have been the first sign that spring has sprung for the economy as employers added more jobs than expected even as a drop in the labor force participation rate remains a lingering concern.

To add to the muddle, the OECD said Tuesday that it expects the U.S. economy to take off like a rocket, relatively speaking, in the next quarter now that the winter woes are behind us.

Lawmakers will want Yellen to navigate the latest info, as well as shine a light on where she sees Fed policy heading in the coming months.

And like always, there is sure to be chatter about Wall Street, “too big to fail,” the dual mandate, and all other bits of fun Fed miscellany.

Expect Yellen’s comments to create headlines and potentially move markets.

 

WHAT ELSE WE’RE WATCHING 

Transpo tapped: A House Appropriations subcommittee will mark up on Wednesday the $52 billion transportation, housing and urban development (THUD) bill, which reduces program funding by nearly $2 billion.

The measure is $7.8 billion below what President Obama suggested.

Economic growth: The Senate Banking Committee will hold a Wednesday subcommittee hearing on job creation with various think tank experts.

Farm bill checkup: On Wednesday the Senate Agriculture Committee will meet with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to discuss how the nation’s farm bill is being implemented and what steps Congress might need to take next.

Marking up postal: House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), seeking that ever-elusive deal to overhaul the cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service, will mark up on Wednesday his second measure to revamp the agency in less than a year.

Issa’s newest measure is modeled after President Obama’s own suggestions from his most recent budget, which include giving USPS greater authority to roll back Saturday delivery and move to more centralized delivery spots.

The Oversight chairman hopes that his hug of Obama could pressure some Democrats into backing his postal measure, after his previous postal reform efforts made it through the committee without a Democratic vote.

But Democrats and postal unions haven’t been shy about saying they’re against five-day delivery, as have some Republicans. Some business groups worry about the idea as well, and about Issa’s new proposal to make permanent a recent increase in the price of stamps.

Welcome back, Koskinen: John Koskinen, the IRS commissioner, heads back to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to discuss the recently completed tax filing season with the House Ways and Means oversight subcommittee.

But Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.) hinted on Tuesday that Koskinen could expect a broader array of questions, including on the Tea Party controversy that is now almost a year old and the IRS’s role in the implementation of the healthcare law.

Koskinen received sharp questioning from a Senate panel last week about bonuses the IRS gave to employees delinquent on their own taxes, and can probably expect a few more when he heads to the House side on Wednesday.

Talk about a tax break: This much we know — the House Ways and Means Committee released previously confidential tax information last month when it urged Attorney General Eric Holder to consider prosecuting former IRS official Lois Lerner for an array of potential crimes.

Now, Tax Analysts is asking whether Ways and Means broke the law by releasing that information.

Republicans on the committee have said Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) acted within his rights, but lawyers contacted by Tax Analysts aren’t so sure.

 

LOOSE CHANGE

Two Sudan sanctions: The Treasury Department sanctioned Marial Chanuong and Peter Gadet on Tuesday for their involvement in  threatening the peace, security or stability of South Sudan.

President Obama signed an Executive Order on April 3 to help put an end to violence that has claimed thousands of lives since December.  

“The violence and human rights abuses perpetrated by the Government of South Sudan and Riek Machar’s opposition forces must end,” said Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen.

“We now have new tools to crack down on those who obstruct the peace process and hold accountable those responsible for violence against civilians.  We stand with the people of South Sudan who are calling for peace.”

Chanuong is the commander of the South Sudanese Government’s Presidential Guard, which led the operations in Juba.

Chanuong disarmed Nuer soldiers and then ordered the use of tanks to target political figures, killing 22 unarmed bodyguards of Riek Machar and seven bodyguards of Gier Chuang Aluong.

Forces led by Gadet attacked and captured Kaka in late March.

Subsequently, Gadet led anti-government attacks in Unity state during the past few days. Gadet and Riek Machar Teny appear to be working together to ensure the success of anti-government forces. 

ECONOMIC INDICATORS

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

Consumer Credit: The Federal Reserve will release its March measure of consumer debt.

Productivity-Unit Labor Costs: The Labor Department releases a report that measures the productivity of workers and the costs associated with producing a unit of output for the first quarter. 

 

WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

— Top FHFA official faces charges over allegedly threatening to harm former head DeMarco

— GOP senators press IRS over bonuses

— House votes to amend Dodd-Frank rule

— Grassley cries foul over immigration regs

— Housing finance reform bill back on the agenda for next week

— Senate pushes WH on Russia sanctions

— White House threatens veto of GOP tax bill

— Senate panel to probe high-frequency trading

— Boxer promises highway bill next week

— CBO gives Congress a choice on highway bill: Tax or spend?

— Senate Dems push student loan relief

Toughest battle for Ex-Im Bank

— Ex-Im Bank fires back against Delta complaints

— House Democrats: No political motivation in IRS scrutiny of conservatives

— Trade deficit narrows on near-record exports

— Issa’s legacy bill hits industry opposition

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