OVERNIGHT MONEY: Watch out for that sequester

The Democratic bill would split tax hikes and spending cuts to achieve the needed savings, while the GOP measure would give the White House more flexibility in circumventing the cuts. 

Still, Obama plans to meet with congressional leaders at the White House on Friday to discuss ways to prevent the cuts, which were a product of the supercommittee agreement to raise the debt ceiling in the summer of 2011.

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This will be Obama's first face-to-face meeting with leaders on the issue, although he has chatted on the phone recently with congressional leaders to discuss the across-the-board spending cuts.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who suggested on Wednesday that Senate members get their rear ends into gear and pass a bill, is expected to attend. 

During the so-called "fiscal cliff" talks, Boehner said he would not sit down at the negotiating table again with Obama.

Obama also spoke briefly with leaders during a quick visit to Capitol Hill on Wednesday prior to attending the unveiling of the Rosa Parks statue.

The White House has escalated its attacks on congressional Republicans, seeking to put the blame squarely on Boehner and other lawmakers in an escalating public relations war.

Republicans have placed responsibility on Obama for conjuring the idea of the sequester, and said he should take the lead in how to proceed. 

Regardless of what happens this week, which doesn't appear to be much in the way of compromise, both chambers are expected to remain in Washington for the better part of March, when they might have the time to work out a deal before the cuts go too deep. 


WHAT ELSE TO WATCH FOR

Change of pace: The Commerce Department will release its second estimate of the economic growth for the final three months of the year, which could show the economy grew. The first estimate, released nearly a month ago, showed that the economy unexpectedly shrank by 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter, marking the first time that had happened since the depths of the recession in mid-2009. 

Massive drops in government and defense spending contributed to the number as the "fiscal cliff" loomed. The drop in defense spending was the largest in 40 years.

But economists have estimated that they expect a big enough revision to reflect that there was some growth in the final quarter of the year. 

Housing fray: The Senate Banking Committee will discuss the Federal Housing Administration’s (FHA) troubled finances with experts on Thursday. The housing downturn has put the FHA in a financial bind, facing what could amount to billions of dollars in losses.

During a hearing earlier this month, Republican lawmakers said they want to see changes at the agency as part of a broader plan to overhaul the mortgage finance industry and reduce the government's role. 

Trading solutions: On Thursday, the House Small Business Committee will talk about how businesses can overcome obstacles to trade and improve their ability to export their products and compete globally.

Small-business owners and experts will discuss policies that can open up new foreign markets, streamline the process and provide protections against unfair trade practices.

Economic standing: The Joint Economic Committee will hold a hearing focusing on the condition of the economy, including lagging economic growth and job creation and how to speed those up, with two former chairmen of the Council of Economic Advisers — Michael Boskin and Austan Goolsbee.


BREAKING NEWS

Go for Lew: The Senate easily confirmed, 71-26, Jack Lew to be Treasury secretary on Wednesday evening after weeks of meetings with lawmakers, plenty of questions about his time on Wall Street and his worthiness to assume a Cabinet post in taking over for Timothy Geithner, who left in January. 

"I am pleased that the Senate took bipartisan action today to confirm Jack Lew as our nation’s next Treasury secretary," President Obama said in a statement. "At this critical time for our economy and our country, there is no one more qualified for this position than Jack."  

Grilled Bernanke: Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke spent several hours on Wednesday defending himself from House Republicans who criticized his policies for doing more harm than good to the economy.

Panel Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) led off the questioning by asking him to admit to "being human and being fallible." 

Bernanke agreed that he was capable of making mistakes.

Meanwhile, in similar news, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) made his presence and opinions known by sending out a statement as Bernanke appeared before the House panel. 

"Today, unfortunately for the American people, Chairman Bernanke presented more failed policies that will only worsen our economic crisis at the expense of the vulnerable, while enriching entrenched allies and politicians."

I'm just a bill, wait, I'm a continuing resolution: Momentum is building behind a continuing resolution crafted by the House Appropriations Committee that would keep the government running through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. The proposed six-month continuing resolution would take over when the current stopgap measure expires March 27. The bill could come up next week in the House. 

House GOP conservatives signaled on Wednesday they would support the proposed measure. 


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.  


WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

— Housing market recovery facing major hurdles

Pending home sales hit nearly 3-year high


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