OVERNIGHT MONEY: Search for a fiscal deal continues

Well, Obama has been clear that he wants to tax rates to go up for families making more than $250,000 a year. 

Congressional Republicans say that's a gift they won't be wrapping. 

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The nation's top chief executives floated the idea on Tuesday in a letter to Congress that letting the upper-bracket tax cuts expire could provide an avenue to a compromise. They are asking for revenue increases to be combined with spending cuts and entitlement reforms, a potentially heavy lift to complete in three weeks. 

Small-business groups and Republicans rebuked the idea, even as CEOs said they weren't targeting anyone, only trying to lay some groundwork toward a compromise. They are optimistic, although that feeling fluctuates by the hour, that a deal can get done. 

Boehner told reporters on Wednesday he and the president had a “frank” conversation after an exchange of offers on Tuesday. 

“I remain the most optimistic person in this town, but we’ve got some serious differences,” he said.

Still, it's not really a surprise that lawmakers are promising to remain in town until a deal is done and then return, if necessary, after the holiday to wrap up work. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) also got in on the act this morning, putting out his own warning that without tax hikes, Congress will push the nation over the fiscal cliff. 

That's certainly not very merry, either. 

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) lightened the dour mood about the progress of talks, saying she is feeling pretty good about the chances a deal could get done, even disagreeing with Reid about how difficult it would be to reach an agreement before Christmas. 

“I’m more optimistic than that,” Pelosi said. 

She even gave Boehner a shout-out in his role in the talks. 

“I do think that Mr. Boehner is a well-intentioned person. He knows what the risk is ... you cannot be frivolous about it; just get it done.”

She did, again, call on Republicans to bring up a bill extending middle-class tax rates under a suspension of the rules, which requires a two-thirds majority to pass.

"I believe and I am wiling to take the chance that this House will give over two-thirds of a vote for the middle-income tax cut."

No one on Capitol Hill has expressed opposition to extending middle-class cuts, but negotiators are wary of giving up any potential bargaining chip in the difficult talks.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) followed Reid's remarks by taking a shot at Obama for only being willing to consider tax hikes and nothing else in a deal. 

“The president and his allies have taken so many things off the table the only thing left is the varnish,” McConnell said.

Sounds like the Grinch came through and took all the holiday decorations and bolted out of town. 

“Any deficit-reduction deal has to include cuts,” McConnell said.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) had a different take on why he thinks Boehner is dragging his feet on a deficit-reduction deal — to save his job. 

Van Hollen said he is worried Boehner is trying to hold off on compromising until he is officially elected as Speaker by the full House on Jan. 3.

“I think the biggest impediment right now is the Speaker’s ability to get a decent number of Republican votes for a deal,” Van Hollen said at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast

He said that Boehner appears worried that he cannot get a majority of his majority on board. Failure to do that would violate a rule used by former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

So let's leave it up to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to make a list and check it twice — well, probably more than that. 

He issued his final warning Wednesday to the White House and Congress to strike a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff, cautioning that concerns over the pending tax hikes and spending cuts were already taking a toll on the economy.

Bernanke was adamant that policymakers could not let the economy go over the cliff, which would make for a not-so-merry Christmas or happy New Year. 

We'll see what happens Thursday as talks continue ...


WHAT ELSE TO WATCH FOR

Sandy's small businesses: Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) will head up a second appropriations hearing on Hurricane Sandy recovery on Thursday, this one focusing on small-business relief. Michael Chodos and James Rivera of the Small Business Administration will testify. 

Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee released a $60.4 billion bill meeting the White House request for disaster relief, which could hit the floor on Thursday.  

On the other side of the Capitol, House conservatives wasted no time in calling for any Sandy spending to be covered by spending cuts elsewhere in the budget. 

Volcker vetting: One of the most contentious pieces of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, the "Volcker Rule," will be dissected by a House Financial Services subcommittee on Thursday. That rule, aimed at cracking down on risky trades by financial firms looking to boost their own profits, has been hotly contested by the industry and Republicans alike as an impossible task that will hamper markets. Regulators have been grappling with the rule ever since it was enacted, and have yet to finalize it. Tomorrow, members will hear from backers and detractors of the rule as they continue to weigh the measure, two and a half years after it was signed into law.

Dishing on derivatives: A House Agriculture subcommittee will target another part of the contentious Dodd-Frank law by examining derivatives reform and what types of challenges are facing U.S. and global markets. Officials from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission will testify, along with international financial experts. 


BREAKING NEWS

How low can you go: The Federal Reserve on Wednesday promised to keep interest rates near zero until unemployment dips below 6.5 percent or inflation climbs above 2.5 percent, linking monetary policy to specific targets for the first time.

The central bank also announced it was expanding its efforts at "quantitative easing" and is now committed to buying $45 billion in Treasury bonds a month, beginning in 2013, to complement the monthly purchases of $40 billion in mortgage debt that are already under way.


ECONOMIC INDICATORS

Initial Claims: The Labor Department releases its weekly filings for jobless benefits, a day ahead of November's job numbers release.

Mortgage Rates: Freddie Mac is releasing weekly data on fixed-rate mortgages, which have been hovering around historic lows.  

Retail Sales: The Commerce Department will release its November report measuring the total receipts of retail stores. Sales figures are widely followed as the most timely indicator of broad consumer spending patterns, which represent 70 of economic activity.  

Producer Price Index (PPI): The Labor Department will release its November report tracking the prices of goods at the wholesale level. The market tracks PPI closely because it represents prices for goods that are ready for sale to consumers.  

Business Inventories: The Commerce Department will release its October report on sales and inventory from all three stages of the manufacturing process: manufacturing, wholesale and retail.


WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

— Camp: Tax reform needs to go beyond corporate

— Sen.-elect Warren to serve on influential Banking Committee

Bloomberg joins group pressing for 'fiscal cliff' grand bargain

— Corker bill would trade $900B in entitlement cuts for hike to debt ceiling

— House Dems adding three new members to Ways and Means

Mortgage applications rise, loan rates fall

— Treasury confirms 2013 deficit at $292 billion


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