OVERNIGHT MONEY: Democrats huddle over hot-button issues

THURSDAY'S BIG STORY:

Big names, big issues: House Democrats will jump into the spotlight for a three-day retreat just outside Washington in Leesburg, Va., to huddle around major issues expected to be faced by Congress over the next two years. 

The Senate is back in session on Thursday after Democrats spent two days in Annapolis to chat about the top issues facing this Congress. 

Discussions are expected to center around growing the economy, immigration reform and gun control, among a whole batch of other issues. 

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Democrats have lined up an impressive list of speakers, too.

President Obama, who spoke to Senate Democrats in Annapolis, Md., on Wednesday, heads out to meet up with House Democrats on Thursday afternoon.

Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund and former French finance minister, will deliver a keynote address Thursday evening.

Vice President Biden will begin the festivities on Wednesday night, and former President Clinton will help Democrats wrap up their meetings on Friday. 

During the past few weeks, Democrats and Republicans on both sides of the Capitol have taken some time out to, well, get their acts together around a massive agenda. 

Lawmakers face ongoing budget battles over a scheduled sequester as well as a spending bill that would keep the government running for the rest of the fiscal year. 

There's the budget deficit, the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling that has been delayed until May and the prospect that both chambers could produce and, maybe even approve, budgets for 2014. 

That, of course, is with the pressure of putting their salaries on the line. 

Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans are each trying to position their parties as the one to lead on getting spending under control, slashing deficits and balancing the budget. 

But there are some heady issues that seem to be moving along the margins that have not only major political implications but strike emotional chords with lawmakers, along with pretty much everyone in the nation — gun control, climate change and immigration that could soak up time needed to get the economy back on track. 


WHAT ELSE TO WATCH FOR

What's next: Budget guru Alice Rivlin will be speaking at the National Economists Club on Thursday about, well, fiscal matters. The founding director of the Congressional Budget Office and former vice chairwoman of the Federal Reserve Board will be offering her thoughts on what is next for the nation's budget and its growing debt load. Rivlin is one of many budget wonks to offer her comprehensive take on where to steer the nation's finances, co-authoring a series of recommendations with former Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M.).

Beach bristle: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will be holding a press conference on Thursday to unveil a new bill he's drafted that would take aim at corporations looking to shelter their income by hiding it offshore. The legislation also would bring a halt to tax breaks for companies that outsource their jobs and factories overseas.


CABINET WATCH

Pushing for Pritzker: President Obama is getting close to naming his choice for the new Commerce secretary — Penny Pritzker, a 53-year-old choosing Chicago businesswoman who led fundraising for his 2008 campaign, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday night.  

Pritzker's family is behind Hyatt Hotels. She would take over from acting secretary Rebecca Blank, who had spent a lot of her time in the lead role since Gary Locke left in 2011 and John Bryson departed in June citing health reasons. 

Hagel on hold: A vote on former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s (R-Neb.) confirmation in the Senate Armed Services Committee has been delayed after Republicans demanded more information from the nominee on his paid speeches and financial disclosures.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) had planned to hold a vote on Thursday, but 24 GOP senators — including all of the 12 Republicans on the committee — sent Hagel a letter saying they opposed a vote until he provided the information they wanted.

Jewell of the Interior: President Obama announced on Wednesday that he is nominating Sally Jewell, the CEO of outdoor-gear giant REI, to succeed outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

“I am extraordinarily proud to nominate another strong and capable leader to take the reins at Interior,” Obama said when introducing Jewell at the White House Wednesday afternoon.


BREAKING NEWS

Saturday's all right for mail delivery: Or not. The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) announced Wednesday that it will discontinue mail delivery on Saturday, while continuing to distribute packages six days a week.

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said the policy change would start in August to help out the cash-strapped agency's bottom line. 

Ending Saturday delivery, Donahoe said, would save roughly $2 billion a year, and the postmaster general cited polling asserting that the public would back the move.

Balancing the budget: The Republican-led House passed legislation Wednesday that would force President Obama to estimate when the federal budget will balance again — and outline the steps he proposes to eliminate the budget deficit.

The Require a PLAN Act is part of a new Republican attempt to force Obama and the Democratic Senate to engage in efforts to cut the deficit. 

As expected, the House approved the bill in a mostly party-line 253-167 vote, although 26 Democrats supported the legislation. 


ECONOMIC INDICATORS

Initial Claims: The Labor Department releases its weekly filings for jobless benefits a day ahead of January job numbers. 

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

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

Productivity-Unit Labor Costs: The Labor Department releases a report that measures the productivity of workers and the costs associated with producing a unit of output for the final three months of the year. 


WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

— GOP revives alternative sequester plan
— Report: IRS makes headway on managing employees
Housing markets continue improving
— Appropriators preparing stopgap bill to avoid government shutdown in March
— GOP lawmakers look to overhaul FHA
— US trade officials file case over India's solar program
— Ryan taps four freshmen for Budget panel
— Former state senator announces challenge for Max Baucus's Senate seat


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