By Vicki Needham and Bernie Becker - 02/02/12 11:48 PM EST
Despite the gradual progress, the job market remains mired in a depressed state — more than 13 million are still unemployed and millions have stopped looking for a job — and that is weighing on the ability for consumers to spend at a pace that would accelerate economic growth.
The Federal Reserve and Congressional Budget Office have offered pessimistic forecasts this week, with CBO chief Douglas Elmendorf predicting an 8.9 percent rate through this year. Central bank head Ben Bernanke has said he expects an 8.2 percent jobless rate.
With those sorts of numbers, Republicans are likely to continue their attacks on President Obama's economic agenda while suggesting he take a closer look at their legislation.
As they have done on past First Fridays, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other GOP leaders will hold a morning news conference, not long after the jobs numbers are released.
The Joint Economic Committee will chat with John Galvin, acting commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about the latest figures during a hearing on Friday.
WHAT ELSE TO WATCH FOR
Elections and budgets: Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, is expected to speak Friday morning on the extra budget challenges policymakers face in an election year.
On a related front, Van Hollen is also one of the 20 conferees working to craft a year-long agreement for the payroll tax cut, a group that has found tough sledding so far.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) warned Republicans Thursday they will be forced to vote multiple times on extending the payroll tax holiday if the Senate-House conference deadlocks on the issue.
Democrats are skeptical that Republicans want to extend the payroll tax rate, which affects an estimated 160 million Americans, because of dismissive statements several House GOP conferees have made.
Life is a highway: The House Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to mark up the House's five-year, $260 billion infrastructure bill on Friday. The bill hasn't exactly gotten raves reviews from the Obama administration, including from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. On Thursday, House Republicans rejected Democrats' push to add bike paths and sidewalks in the bill. A push for heavier trucks also hit a stop sign in House committee.
Fire sale: Well, not really, but the House Rules Committee will consider a bill by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) that would set up a BRAC-like system of selling, demolishing and consolidating property, with the potential of garnering upward of $15 billion for the federal governments' lean coffers.
The Obama administration and lawmakers have been working together for nearly a year to craft a plan. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) included Denham's measure on a list of legislative goals for this session.
Jesus, Allah and Yahweh: President Obama, still pressing the case for tax fairness and the so-called Buffett Rule in this election year, cited some big guns at today's National Prayer Breakfast.
"If I'm willing to give something up as somebody who's been extraordinarily blessed and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually thinks that's going to make economic sense," the president said.
"But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus's teaching that, to whom much is given, much shall be required. It mirrors the Islamic belief that those who've been blessed have an obligation to use those blessings to help others; or the Jewish doctrine of moderation and consideration for others."
Obama's comments drew a Senate floor retort this evening from Sen. Orrin Hatch, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee.
"With due respect to the president, he should stick to public policy," Hatch (R-Utah) said. "I think most Americans would agree that the Gospels are concerned with weightier matters than effective tax rates."
Time to stock up: The Senate overwhelmingly backed a measure, 96-3, on Thursday to prohibit members of Congress from using non-public information for personal financial gain, but beat back a slew of amendments to further limit congressional perks.
The Senate action puts pressure on House Republicans to pass similar legislation to quell allegations of congressional self-dealing at a time when Congress’s approval rating is at an all-time low. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has called the legislation "weak." His staff said he would move a strengthened version of the bill to the House floor at the end of the month.
Senators also voted down a bipartisan proposal to permanently ban earmarks, as well as an amendment to require lawmakers and senior staff to divest of stocks or put their stock holdings in blind trusts.
The amendment, sponsored by Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), to permanently ban earmarks failed by a vote of 40-59.
A solid block of Republicans, including Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Roy Blunt (Mo.), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Susan Collins (Maine), John Hoeven (N.D.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), James Inhofe (Okla.), Dick Lugar (Ind.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Pat Roberts (Kan.), Jeff Sessions (Ala.), Richard Shelby (Ala.) and Roger Wicker (Miss.), voted to preserve Congress’s future power to earmark federal funds.
Please, speed it up: Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on Thursday said the economic recovery remains “frustratingly slow,” and warned Congress the outlook for growth is “uncertain” at best.
Bernanke said “the sluggish expansion has left the economy vulnerable to shocks,” most notably from the debt crisis in Europe.
“Over the past two and a half years, the U.S. economy has been gradually recovering from the recent deep recession,” Bernanke said. “While conditions have certainly improved over this period, the pace of the recovery has been frustratingly slow, particularly from the perspective of the millions of workers who remain unemployed or underemployed.”
The final meltdown: Well, not yet, but Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner thinks that detractors against the Dodd-Frank financial reform law are pushing for a repeat of the financial crisis.
In Congress and on the campaign trail, President Obama's signature financial reform law has come under fire. Lawmakers are pushing several bills that would repeal portions of the law, and every major Republican candidate has vowed to kill it as one of their first acts in office.
But Geithner said such a rollback would merely prep America for another financial crisis — while America is still struggling to dig out from the last one.
"Remember 2008, 2009, remember the fact that the reason we're living with very high unemployment ... is because of the failures that caused this crisis in the financial system," he said. "If you want to go back to that ... then you should be in favor of repeal of the law."
Factory Orders: The Commerce Department is releasing data on factory orders that consist of the earlier announced durable goods report plus non-durable goods orders.
ISM Services: The ISM non-manufacturing index, which accounts for about 90 percent of the economy, covers industries ranging from utilities and retailing to healthcare and finance.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
— GOP senators pressure Reid on recess appointments
— Top Democrat seeks to quell debate over permanent earmark ban
— Retail, financial firms lead January job cuts
— Private equity industry rolls out new campaign to counter campaign trail attacks
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