OVERNIGHT MONEY: Negotiators working toward final agreement on payroll tax bill

Mostly, all signals from those involved in the talks say the outlook is good. So, when asking the Magic 8-Ball if Congress will clear a deal before leaving for next week's week-long Presidents Day recess, the answer might come up: You may rely on it. 


WHAT ELSE TO WATCH FOR

February budget madness: Nope, it's not tourney time for college basketball, but Obama administration officials are doing the rounds on Capitol Hill this week hawking — well, more accurately, defending — President Obama's budget plan.

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So far, there have been a fair number of heated exchanges over tax increases in the Obama budget. While Republicans have tried to grab headlines by blasting Obama officials, the timing of the payroll tax deal and the problems with the transportation package are making it difficult to push the issue up the agenda.

On Thursday, Energy Secretary Steven Chu will testify for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The House Appropriations subcommittee on Defense will talk with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, and Defense Under Secretary Robert Hale. 

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner marks his third straight day of appearances on the Hill this week — all of which have included several terse exchanges. A tough line of questioning will probably continue Thursday when he appears before the Senate and House Budget committees.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar testifies at the House Appropriations subcommittee on Interior and Environment on his agency's budget.

The House Armed Services Committee will hear from Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos on the fiscal 2013 defense authorization request. 

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski testifies on the budget for the Federal Communications Commission at the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

An eye on Europe's finances: Troubles abroad will be the topic du jour at the Senate Banking Committee tomorrow — in particular, the European debt crisis, and its implications for the U.S. economic recovery. The latest indications out of Europe have been somewhat settling to financial markets, but it is clear major concerns remain — the Federal Reserve has identified Europe's struggles as a major point of concern for the American recovery. Officials from the Treasury and State departments, as well as the Fed, will testify.

Mark it up: The House Financial Services Committee will be working out its amending muscles tomorrow, as the panel works through four bills. Republicans say the bills are aimed at peeling back onerous regulations and ensuring companies can line up the financing they need. One bill would make it easier for small, growing companies to tap into public capital markets. Another would require the Securities and Exchange Commission to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of any new regulations in the works. A third would repeal a provision of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law that places new restrictions on dealers in financial swaps, and the fourth would ensure that proprietary information gathered by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau does not become public.


ECONOMIC INDICATORS

Initial Claims: The Department of Labor releases its weekly filings for jobless benefits. Claims have been reflecting a strengthening job market in recent weeks. The unemployment rate dropped to 8.3 percent last month. 

Housing Starts-Building Permits: The Commerce Department releases its report on the number of residential units under construction along with building permits, which allow work to start and are a forward-looking indicator. 

Producer Price Index: The Labor Department will release its report that tracks the prices of goods at the wholesale level. The market tracks PPI closely because it represents prices for goods that are ready for sale to consumers.


BREAKING WEDNESDAY

Job opening at the World Bank: President Obama will have the opportunity to handpick a new global economic leader this summer when Robert Zoellick resigns as president of the World Bank.

Zoellick, who served under former President George W. Bush before being selected to head the organization, informed the global financial institution Wednesday morning that he did not plan to extend his stay beyond his five-year term at the bank. He will step down at the end of June.

Ease on down the road: Speaker John Boehner is delaying a vote on the $260 billion transportation bill that was scheduled this week.

Boehner (R-Ohio) told his conference Wednesday morning that it was "more important that we do it right than that we do it fast" in explaining his decision, a clear signal GOP leaders lack the votes to win approval of the package.

"Given the volume of amendments and the need for a full, fair, open and transparent process, we may not finish energy/infrastructure this week," Boehner told his conference, according to a source in the room. "If we need more time to debate and consider amendments, that's perfectly fine with me. It's more important that we do it right than that we do it fast."

Clash of the tax titans: Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner clashed with GOP leaders of the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday over taxes during a tense hearing where Republicans criticized the administration for not offering a detailed proposal to tackle the tax code. 

Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) hit Geithner over the administration's plan to raise taxes by $1.5 trillion over 10 years on the nation's highest earners without outlining a tax reform plan.

"We'll see a unicorn before we see a comprehensive tax reform plan," Camp said. 

Come in, have a seat: House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has asked the former head of Countrywide Financial to conduct a transcribed interview about his role in the company’s alleged attempts to bribe members of Congress.

Issa, who is investigating a Countrywide loan program that gave preferential treatment to some customers, asked lawyers for Angelo Mozilo for an interview with the ex-CEO of Countrywide, once the country’s largest mortgage lenders.

Land of broken promises: House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) confronted President Obama's budget director Wednesday about the president's broken promise to halve the deficit by the end of his first term. 

“We’ve heard a lot of excuses from this administration for why the president broke his promise. But what we haven’t heard is any semblance of accountability,” Ryan told Jeff Zients.

The Obama budget projects a deficit of $901 billion for 2013, which is no less than half of the $1.4 trillion budget deficit recorded in 2009. 


WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

Consumer bureau's budget faces GOP scrutiny

Mortgage applications drop slightly last week, refinancing hits six-month high

— Waters: Banks 'shaking in their boots' at thought of me as chairwoman

Builders' confidence rises for fifth straight month

— Bill Gates jumps into fray over SEC oil transparency rule

House GOP pounces after Obama budget director says health mandate ‘not a tax’

Homeowners get additional three months to ask for foreclosure review

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