By Vicki Needham, Bernie Becker and Peter Schroeder - 03/21/12 10:32 PM EDT
On Thursday, Obama will announce the issuance a memo telling federal agencies to expedite permitting for an Oklahoma-to-Texas oil pipeline that makes up the southern portion of the Keystone XL project.
Meanwhile, a handful of Senate Republicans will hold a news conference on the Keystone XL pipeline and the president's visit to Oklahoma.
On Wednesday, Gary Gensler, the chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, argued for an increase in the agency's budget would allow the CFTC to ensure futures markets are free of "fraud, manipulation and other abuses."
Meanwhile, a handful of liberal senators unveiled legislation that would force federal regulators to curb “excessive” market speculation that they say is responsible for soaring gas prices.
The bill, authored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), mandates that the CFTC use its emergency powers within 14 days to put limits on speculative trading in energy futures markets.
Obama vowed Wednesday to continue making investments in solar power, despite the collapse of Solyndra — a sign he thinks clean energy will be a political winner.
“As long as I’m president, we will not walk away from the promise of clean energy,” Obama said during a speech at a solar plant in Boulder City, Nev.
He continues to press the idea that long-term investment in the renewable energy will boost the economy and create thousands of jobs.
He also, once again, sought to portray Republicans as out of touch.
“If these guys were around when Columbus set sail, they’d be charter members of the Flat Earth Society,” Obama said, reprising a line from an earlier speech.
Obama also is reiterating his administration’s commitment to expand domestic oil-and-gas production, an issue that the White House has put renewed focus on amid soaring gasoline prices. Republicans have argued it's the only way to lower prices.
But Obama said more drilling isn’t the only answer, touting his “all-of-the-above” energy plan.
“An energy strategy that focuses only on drilling and not on an energy strategy that will free ourselves from our dependence on oil, that’s a losing strategy,” he said. “That’s not a strategy I’m going to pursue.”
WHAT ELSE TO WATCH FOR
Dodd-Frank goes global: Top officials from the wide world of financial regulation will take a seat before the Senate Banking Committee Thursday, where the topic du jour will be — what else -— the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. However, lawmakers will be keying in on exactly how Dodd-Frank is playing overseas. As the United States tries to tighten up its rules on the financial sector, it is counting on global counterparts to follow suit, to ensure there is a nice, even playing field. Some skeptics of the new law have worried that financial activity could simply head abroad if other nations don't follow the United States's lead. Top officials from the Treasury Department, Federal Reserve, Securities and Exchange Commission, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and Commodity Futures Trading Commission — that enough for you? — are slated to testify.
CFTC cash: Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chairman Gary Gensler is continuing his tour of Capitol Hill, asking for a 50 percent boost in his agency's budget. On Wednesday, he told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee that the CFTC needed a $308 million budget to keep up with the rapidly growing derivatives marketplace, as well as new responsibilities handed down by Dodd-Frank. On Thursday, he'll be doing the same before the House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing his agency. However, he may have a tougher time before the GOP-controlled panel — the CFTC ended up with just a $3 million budget boost last year after making the same hefty request for fiscal 2012.
Talking taxes: Doug Shulman, the IRS commissioner, is set to update a House Ways and Means subcommittee on the progress of the 2012 tax filing season on Thursday.
On Wednesday, Shulman told a House Appropriations subcommittee that his agency had 5,000 fewer employees this filing season, according to Bloomberg. The IRS commissioner has long stressed that cutting his agency's budget would be counterproductive for lawmakers, by eating into the amount of revenue it collects.
Ka-ching: Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a leading sponsor of an online sales tax measure, told supporters of the bill that 15 Republican senators need to be persuaded to back the bill before Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) brings the bill to the floor, National Journal reports.
Supporters of the measure say it would merely allow states to collect taxes they're already owed. But opponents worry it could hurt businesses that do lots of business online.
Alexander's comments come not long after Gov. Paul LePage of Maine, a Republican and Tea Party favorite, urged his state's two GOP senators to back the measure.
More, please: There are plenty of budget hearings out there on both sides of the Capitol on Thursday. On the Senate side, Commerce Secretary John Bryson and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson will testify about their budgets. The EPA budget request is $8.34 billion, $105 million below last year's levels. Officials also testify on spending levels for the secretary of the Senate, sergeant at arms and the U.S. Capitol Police.
If that's not enough, Education Secretary Arne Duncan talks to House Appropriations and the heads of the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Railroad Administration and the Federal Transit Administration also appear at hearings.
A couple of other House Appropriations subcommittees have a long list of witnesses, including actor Stanley Tucci.
Get him to the Greek: Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told lawmakers Wednesday that while the United States has its economic challenges, it's a far cry from the problems plaguing Greece.
During a hearing on the European debt crisis, lawmakers on the House Oversight Committee from both parties invoked the nation that has become the face of foreign fiscal woes. Republicans warned that high Washington spending could be putting the United States on a similar path, while Democrats contended that harsh austerity measures would do the same.
Senate moving on JOBS bill: The Senate on Wednesday voted to advance House Republicans' JOBS Act, a bill proponents say would create jobs by easing capital formation regulations for smaller companies.
The legislation, which soared through the House earlier in March by a 323-92 vote, cleared the 60-vote procedural threshold in the Senate, 76-22, after several powerful Democrats argued the proposed deregulations would go too far. The measure may now proceed to a vote on passage, which could come as early as today.
Gimme a tax break: House Republicans said Wednesday that their new small-business tax cut will not weigh down their push for tax reform.
GOP lawmakers typically prefer permanent tax changes, and the House Republicans’ new budget, released Tuesday, calls for a broad overhaul of the entire tax code.
But while the proposed 20 percent tax cut for businesses with fewer than 500 employees would be in effect for one year, top Republicans said it would still be able to give the economy a jumpstart.
Initial Claims: The Department of Labor releases its weekly filings for jobless benefits. Claims have been reflecting a strengthening job market in recent weeks.
FHFA Housing Price Index: The Federal Housing Finance Agency will release its measure of prices on single-family homes.
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
— Dems attack Ryan budget as middle-class tax increase
— The White House says budget supporters are 'ignorant'
— Club for Growth rejects the GOP budget
— House GOP looks to move short-term highway extension, not Senate bill
— Senators question ad buys, salaries at cash-strapped USPS
— Ros-Lehtinen wants strings attached to Russia trade bill
— Retail group tells Senate to ax NLRB’s union-election rule
— Housing market shows improvement despite decline in sales last month
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