By Peter Schroeder, Bernie Becker, Vicki Needham and Erik Wasson - 07/30/12 10:17 AM EDT
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has refused to commit one way or the other, but with economic growth slowing — just a 1.5 percent rise in gross domestic product and the unemployment rate stuck above 8 percent — Wall Street and Washington will be eager to see Wednesday’s statement.
In Congress, lawmakers will be tackling some last bits of work before leaving at the end of the week for a monthlong August recess.
Headlining the agenda will be the debate over who, exactly, is holding tax cuts for the middle class hostage.
The House is scheduled to vote this week to extend all current President George W. Bush-era tax rates for another year and a separate measure to lay the groundwork for tax reform in 2013. Those votes will come a week after Senate Democrats rammed through a bill to extend Bush-era rates for a year, but only on annual income up to $250,000.
Democrats have said that, with the Senate having rejected a plan to extend all Bush rates, the House should just vote to continue tax relief agreed to by both sides. But Republicans have said that Democrats are threatening the economy by pushing for a tax increase on the wealthiest Americans.
With all that in mind, the real substantive work on the tax rates is expected to be put off until after November's elections.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) also said Thursday that his chamber could push forward on a plan to extend expired or expiring tax breaks, popularly known as tax extenders, next week. But Senate Finance Committee members have not announced a path forward on those provisions yet.
The House will vote on a one-year extension to the farm bill accompanied by an extension of disaster aid for livestock producers, as the House Rules Committee will consider a rule for the measure Tuesday. The measure would represent a pared-down version from a five-year extension passed earlier this month by the House Agriculture Committee.
Meanwhile, completion of a Russia trade bill will also loom over the House and Senate this week.
Although the measure enjoys bipartisan support, neither House Republican nor Senate Democratic leaders have greenlighted the measure, which would extend permanent normal trade relations to Moscow before the nation joins the World Trade Organization on Aug. 22.
The committee chairmen handling the bill — Senate Finance's Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and House Ways and Means head Dave Camp (R-Mich.) — are pressing each other to reconcile differences on proposed human rights legislation that will be linked to the bill normalizing trade ties.
Both appear eager to complete the measure before leaving for the August recess, especially with business groups such as Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce bearing down on them.
Business groups argue that global competitors will have a significant advantage over U.S. businesses in Russia if the bill isn’t passed. The House must approve the measure first because it contains revenue-raising provisions.
Some quick hoop-jumping, including a compromise on the human rights legislation, could be just what leaders in both chambers need to see before agreeing to clear the measure for Obama's signature.
On Tuesday, appropriators in the Senate will be marking a 2013 defense spending measure at the subcommittee level. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Director Richard Cordray will pay a visit to the Senate Banking Committee that same day, where he will deliver the semi-annual report of the agency’s work.
On Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee will continue its long-running discussion on tax reform, debating how an overhaul should treat business entities.