This week: Budget, Bernanke take center stage for lawmakers

Attorney General Eric Holder and Energy Secretary Steven Chu are on Tuesday’s docket for House Appropriations sub-panels. Following them Wednesday will be Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson. All four will be defending the president’s budget requests for their agencies.

Other committees will get their whacks at Obama’s budget. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will appear before the Senate Budget Committee on Tuesday to discuss his department’s request. Panetta will give a repeat performance Wednesday before the House Budget Committee.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will be talking about her agency’s budget before the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke also will be a near-constant presence before Congress this week as he discusses the central bank’s view of the economy.

Bernanke will deliver the Fed’s semiannual report on monetary policy and the economy to both the House and Senate.

On Wednesday, he will testify before the House Financial Services Committee, and on Thursday he’ll be before the Senate Banking Committee. Lawmakers will be feeling out Bernanke for where the central bank sees the economy heading in the coming months, as well as what should be done about the deficit.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk will be testifying before the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday, discussing the nation’s trade agenda. Hot topics will include the U.S.-China trade relationship, as well as a progress report on the implementation of three free-trade agreements recently established with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.

The housing market will be the focus Tuesday in both chambers of Congress.

In the Senate, the Banking Committee will be discussing ways to get the housing market moving again with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, Elizabeth Duke of the Federal Reserve and Edward DeMarco, acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Meanwhile, the House Financial Services Committee will be hearing from a number of other HUD officials as it holds a hearing on oversight of the agency.

On Wednesday, the Commerce Department will release the second of its three estimates on how much the economy grew in the last quarter of 2011. The government previously estimated in January that the gross domestic product grew by 2.8 percent in the last three months of that year.

The Senate Budget Committee will round out its week with a Wednesday hearing on getting healthcare spending under control, followed by a Thursday discussion of tax reform.

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