OVERNIGHT MONEY: Bernanke returns to the Hill

Some Fed officials have suggested that if the economic recovery hits the skids, the Fed might feel compelled to do more. 

The question now is whether the jobs report fits that bill. On Wednesday, the Fed released its latest "Beige Book," in which it said it was hearing from business that it was not all doom and gloom and that the economy was still slowly expanding and hiring was still steady, if slow.

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Some economists have forecast that employers will pick up the pace of hiring this summer, quieting talks about additional stimulus. 

Bernanke, as is the custom for the Fed chairman, is likely to play it coy in his testimony, and will not come out and announce a new stimulative program from the Fed. After all, the central bank is not a dictatorship, and its policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee is not set to meet until the third week of June.

But you can be sure that markets and policymakers will be breaking out a fine-tooth comb for any indications from Bernanke on the future of the Fed. 

Beyond economics, the Fed's moves could play a major role in the upcoming election, and Republicans have been none too pleased with the last few times the Fed pulled out an unusual move to goose the recovery.


WHAT ELSE TO WATCH FOR

Vegas bound: President Obama heads to Sin City on Thursday to continue pressing lawmakers to pass an extension of current interest rates on student loans before the end of the month.

As it stands, the rates on subsidized Stafford loans are set to double, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent, on July 1, and the White House has deemed the issue a top priority. 

“I think that he'll address the overall need for Congress to act, both on specific measures related to making education in college more affordable, but also more broadly, on a host of initiatives that the President has put forward that would directly and quickly have a positive impact on economic growth and job creation,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Wednesday.  

But Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) gave some pushback to the White House on Wednesday, calling on the president to scrub his event at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and work with Republicans on extending the rates. 

Boehner and Cantor joined top Senate Republicans last week in offering a new set of proposals to extend the rates for a year, at the cost of some $6 billion. Boehner and Cantor said that they have not heard back on their offer, and even suggested that top Democrats like Vice President Biden seemed unaware of it. 

More broadly speaking, Republicans have also started implying that their offer has given them the high ground in the student loan debate. 

“With all of the great economic challenges facing our country, there is no reason to manufacture political fights where there is no policy disagreement,” Boehner and Cantor wrote Wednesday.

To Russia with a warning: The House Foreign Affairs Committee will mark up legislation on Thursday that would impose sanctions on anyone responsible for the detention, abuse or death of Sergei Magnitsky, and for other gross violations of human rights in the Russian Federation. On Tuesday, U.S. companies expressed concern that the human-rights legislation being linked to a must-pass Russian trade bill could wind up sanctioning them and their business interests.

The groups said in addition to hurting relations between the two countries, the bill could increase the risk that their assets will be frozen. 

Congressional sponsors want the bill linked with or incorporated into another bill granting Russia permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) status, something the United States wants to do by August, when Russia is to join the World Trade Organization. Unless trade relations are normalized by then, U.S. exports to Russia would face higher tariffs than those from other nations.

The groups are especially worried that the bill would empower the chairmen and ranking members of 10 congressional committees to sponsor people or entities for sanctions. The U.S. secretary of State would have to justify keeping any individual off the list, creating a political confrontation. The National Foreign Trade Council said lawmakers could try to nominate Chinese leaders, thereby upsetting a major U.S. trading partnership.

The groups are pleased that House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) has come out in favor of a “clean” PNTR bill but are worried that Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who favors strong Russia trade, has not come out against any link to the human-rights measure.

One option being pursued is getting the business-friendly Senate Banking Committee to use parliamentary procedures to gain a role in crafting the bill, which is currently in the hands of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The groups are urging lawmakers to water down the bill so that it only deals with visa restrictions, rather than asset freezes.

On the spending road: The House Appropriations Committee will mark up a $51.6 billion measure on Thursday that covers the budget for the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development. The draft of the proposal released Wednesday contains a $3.9 billion reduction for the agencies from 2012 spending and is $1.9 billion less than President Obama requested for the departments earlier this year. 

Appropriations Committee Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ala.) said his committee had to make "smart investments" in transportation and housing development. 


ECONOMIC INDICATORS

Initial Claims: The Department of Labor releases its weekly filings for jobless benefits, which have started to tick down again, although slowly. 

Consumer Credit: The Federal Reserve releases its monthly measure of consumer debt.

Mortgage Rates: Freddie Mac releases weekly data on fixed-rate mortgages. 


WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

— White House: Obama position on taxes remains unchanged
— GOP leaders tout Clinton's remarks to renew push for extending tax rates
— Geithner warns Syria that economic actions will be authorized
— Ethics committee says case against Waters to move forward
— House Republicans move to block FCC’s political ad rule
— Regulators take heat for JPMorgan loss
Nasdaq to compensate investors for Facebook IPO woes
— No sign of compromise as House Budget hears latest CBO warning
— Beige Book finds moderate economic growth, steady hiring
— Senators ask federal officials to look into companies offering products to veterans

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