This week: Housing finance reform, take two

A Senate panel will take a second crack at overhauling the housing market next week, despite a stalled attempt to broaden support for a reform bill.

The Senate Banking Committee is expected to take up and approve legislation that would eliminate government-controlled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

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The legislation always had a majority of the committee backing it, but Chairman Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and ranking member Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) held off on an earlier markup in an attempt to build further support for the plan.

But six Senate Democrats have said they can’t back the bill in its current form, dashing hopes that the bipartisan legislation could build momentum to pass on the Senate floor before the November midterm elections. It appears backers still want to move ahead with the plan despite the setback, taking on the long odds of passage in an election year.

Mel Watt, the former North Carolina lawmaker who now heads the Federal Housing Finance Agency, will make his first public remarks as head of the agency. Watt, who was confirmed in December, will speak Tuesday at the Brookings Institution. As lawmakers grapple with legislation to overhaul the housing market, Watt will offer his take on the future of Fannie and Freddie.

While some lawmakers focus on housing finance, others will be digging into the contentious world of high-frequency trading. Amid accusations the high-tech, high-speed trading is unfairly rigging markets against average investors, the Senate Agriculture Committee will hear from regulators and industry experts on the matter Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the heads of the Securities and Exchange Commission and Commodity Futures Trading Commission will testify before Senate appropriators on their budget requests. The two agencies are pushing for a healthy boost in funds, in part to bolster their technological capacity to keep up with the lightning-quick traders.

That same day, another appropriations subcommittee will debate congressional funding for defense research and innovation.

The Senate is expected to start consideration of a package to extend dozens of expired tax breaks through 2015, at a cost of roughly $85 billion.

The legislation would revive the popular corporate research credit, the production credit used by the wind industry, and a host of other tax breaks, including more than a handful derided by critics as corporate pork.

The package cleared the Finance Committee with relative ease last month. But it could run into the same sort of fight over amendments that Democrats and Republicans have had on other Senate measures for months.

Some GOP senators, for instance, have said they’re interested in a vote on repealing the medical device tax in President Obama’s healthcare law.

Of course, extending the breaks faces other obstacles when and if it makes it through the Senate. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) is taking a different approach, seeking to extend certain tax breaks indefinitely.

The House passed an expanded version of the research and development credit on Friday. A final deal on the tax breaks isn’t expected before November’s elections.

The Senate Budget Committee has a hearing slated for Tuesday devoted specifically to how to grow economic opportunity for women. And the House Small Business Committee hits the road next week, with a field hearing in upstate New York to discuss the perks that come when small farms join up with large processors and retailers.

Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen will also be talking small business on Thursday, when she delivers remarks.

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker will discuss the next phase of the Obama administration’s National Export Initiative, which is aimed at doubling exports by 2015, during an Atlantic Media event Tuesday. The conversation is expected to include broader discussions about trade and economic growth.

U.S. trade officials head to Vietnam next week for more negotiations on the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is headed to China for meetings on Tuesday with senior Chinese government officials about the global economic outlook.

Lew is also expected to discuss progress on China’s reform agenda and the value of the country’s currency, the yuan, especially with a trade deficit of more than $20 billion between the two nations.