OVERNIGHT MONEY: Lawmakers aim to wrap up votes on payroll tax cut package

Still, even as 17 of the 20 conferees signed on to the deal — eight House Republicans, five House Democrats and four Senate Democrats — there were still signs of discontent.

Maryland Democrats Sen. Ben Cardin and Rep. Chris Van Hollen applauded a last-minute compromise that would force only new federal employees to contribute more to their pension funds, a provision that will help pay for the emergency unemployment insurance.

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“Whenever we can get something done here that’s bipartisan, and that has a positive impact on jobs, that’s a good result,” said Sen. Bob Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania, one of four Senate Democrats who signed the conference report.

In the end, none of the three Senate Republicans on the panel signed on to the report after complaining that they were shut out of the negotiations that crafted the deal.

Then, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he was breaking with other party leaders to oppose the payroll tax agreement.

The House minority whip said a provision to cut retirement funds for some federal workers proved to be a deal-breaker.

Hoyer was joined by at least three Senate Democrats — Mark Warner (Va.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Tom Harkin (Iowa), all outlining why they will oppose the deal that seemed a long way from complete earlier this week. 

The signing of the report marked just the latest step in what has been a chaotic week for the conference committee that started when House GOP leaders on Monday dropped their demand to pay for the payroll tax cut.

Still, despite that opposition, the conference report should have enough support to pass each chamber and take the trip down Pennsylvania to the White House, more than a week ahead of when the bill's provisions were set to expire. 


BREAKING THURSDAY

Choices galore: Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) unveiled their "Seniors' Choice Act" on Thursday that would give seniors the choice of receiving federal subsidies — called "premium support" by supporters — to buy private insurance instead of traditional Medicare, starting in 2016.

The bill is similar to a bipartisan proposal unveiled late last year by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have promised to support similar legislation if elected.

GM hits the jackpot of profits: General Motors announced Thursday it made a profit of $7.6 billion in 2011, a record for the company.

“In our first full year as a public company, we grew the top and bottom lines, advanced our global market share and made strategic investments in our brands around the world,” GM CEO Dan Akerson said in a statement.

Consumer bureau ramps up protections: Large debt collectors and credit-reporting agencies will face federal scrutiny for the first time under new rules being drafted by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

CFPB Director Richard Cordray told reporters Thursday that those two industries "have gone unsupervised for too long," and vowed to increase oversight to ensure they are not taking advantage of consumers.

"The supervision tool is a very powerful tool. It's a very powerful way for us to secure compliance with the law," he said. "It's an authority I wish I had had in previous positions."


LOOSE CHANGE

Geithner gets smiley: A jovial Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner rebutted arguments from Republicans that the White House alone is to blame for the lack of a long-term deficit solution, repeatedly turning the focus on GOP refusals to raise taxes on the wealthy and on GOP proposals that would increase healthcare costs for seniors. 

His verbal gymnastics infuriated members of the panel.

“You can smile and laugh about it all you want," Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said at one point, cutting him off.

Geithner said that if Republicans can come to the table and accept significant revenue increases, then progress on long-term problems can be made. Accepting the Obama budget, which has $1.5 trillion in new taxes, would be a first step, he said.

“If we can’t agree on the next 10 years, why are you are so focused on the next 100 years or millennium?” he asked.

Facing reality: The troubled U.S. Postal Service released an updated business plan on Thursday that includes raising the price of first-class stamps to 50 cents from 45 cents.

The postal service lost $3.3 billion in the first quarter of fiscal 2012 and is set to run up against its debt ceiling in the fall.

Competing bills in Congress — notably in the Senate by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and in the House by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) — would trim services and address the way the services pays for health benefits in order to shore up its fiscal position. The Obama budget proposes a $4 billion fix that would end Saturday mail.

USPS on Thursday also proposes ending six-day mail. The plan would sever the service from the federal health benefits system and cut 155,000 employees mostly through retirement by 2016.

"The picture here is perfectly clear — unless Congress acts quickly and significantly to provide the Postal Service with the tools and resources it needs to modernize its business model, this American institution will be insolvent within months," Carper said in a statement. 

"This is a dire situation, but it is not hopeless," he said. 

"We can save the Postal Service for future generations — and without further burdening taxpayers — if we act decisively and strategically." 

Issa expressed concern about the plan.

“Unfortunately, too much of the Postal Service’s plan is still an accounting fantasy," he said in a statement. "The reality remains that USPS must make difficult decisions to cut costs and realign its network to meet America’s declining use of paper mail."


ECONOMIC INDICATORS 

Consumer Price Index (CPI): The Labor Department releases its measure of the price level of a fixed market basket of goods and services purchased by consumers. CPI is the most widely cited inflation indicator, and it is used to calculate cost of living adjustments for government programs.

Leading Indicators: The Conference Board will release a batch of previously announced economic indicators: new orders, jobless claims, money supply, average workweek, building permits and stock prices. 


WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

Jobless claims drop to four-year low

Insider-trading bill sponsors keep pressure on leaders

— Geithner explains why Obama never embraced Bowles-Simpson

Housing starts rise in January as sector slowly recovers

— Ryan urges GOP candidates to 'prepare the country' for tax, entitlement reform

 And Santorum releases tax returns; paid 28 percent rate in 2010

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