OVERNIGHT MONEY: Budget work continues

The division among Senate Democrats over Obama’s budget was evident during a Budget panel hearing with the Office of Management and Budget's Jeff Zients on Thursday. 

Liberals blasted him for proposed cuts to Social Security benefits, while others argued that the changes are needed to provide any hope of managing the burgeoning mandatory spending side of the budget. 

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Zients told the panel that it is part of compromise with Republicans. 

“It’s just as wrong as can be to have made that choice,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). “I don’t care where it came from. ... Anything I can do to be a foe of that I intend to do.”

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) questioned why the administration had not examined other options to fix Social Security. 

Maybe a good mantra for Congress on budgeting is: Everything will be all right in the end ... if it's not all right, then it's not yet the end.


WHAT ELSE WE'RE WATCHING

Talking taxes: A group of congressional Republicans will gather in the Capitol on Friday to talk about a broad range of issues — from comprehensive tax reform, President Obama’s 2014 budget request and concerns about the healthcare reform law. 

Slated to speak are House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, along with Reps. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) and Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Reps. Tom Price (R-Ga.) and Reid Ribble (R-Wis.), of the House Budget Committee. Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, will also speak.

CFTC budget: A House Appropriations subcommittee will examine the budget for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission with Chairman Gary Gensler and CFTC Commissioner Scott O'Malia on Friday. The president's budget calls for a 50 percent increase in funding for the agency, to $315 million. The boost would be covered by fees charged to firms the agency oversees. 


LOOSE CHANGE

Africa exports: A bipartisan trio of senators introduced legislation on Thursday designed to dramatically increase U.S. exports to Africa and, in turn, create more jobs here. 

Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), John Boozman (R-Ark.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) are seeking to improve U.S. competitiveness throughout the continent by requiring better coordination between federal agencies to boost business activity to Africa. 

“Increasingly I am hearing the U.S. has given up on Africa as a market. While we’re building institutions, China and others are building markets and we’re being left behind,” Durbin said. “This bill will put the restoration of American competitiveness in Africa at the forefront of our business and development goals..”

Hong Kong travel: Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) is pressing for Hong Kong to become eligible to participate in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which smooths international travel to the United States. 

"The U.S. travel industry applauds Senator Hirono for identifying a simple fix that would help pave the way for Hong Kong to be considered for the VWP," said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association.

"It is important for Congress to continue to look for opportunities, such as the one presented by Senator Hirono, to drive increased visitation and spending in the United States. America and Americans will only benefit."

Nearly 129,000 travelers from Hong Kong visited the United States in 2011. 

Hot seat: House Republican lawmakers have subpoenaed the private emails of Thomas Perez, the nominee to head up the Labor Department, ahead of his confirmation hearing next week. 

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrel Issa (R-Calif.) wants to take a look at some emails as part of an investigation into a deal Perez made with the city of St. Paul, Minn., to withdraw a lending discrimination lawsuit before it could be heard by the Supreme Court. 

As part of the agreement, the Justice Department didn't join two whistleblower lawsuits against the city that might have meant the return of millions in damages to the federal government.


ECONOMIC INDICATORS

Retail Sales: The Commerce Department will release its March report measuring the total sales 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 March report that tracks the prices of goods at the wholesale level. The market tracks PPI closely because it represents prices for goods that are ready to sell to consumers.  

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

Michigan Sentiment: Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan will release its measure of consumer sentiment for April.  


WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

—  Baucus: 'Middle ground' needed on taxes

— Lew highlights clear differences on tax reform policy

— Baucus: 'Disappointed' Obama budget has chained CPI

— Top Republican backs Obama on entitlement cuts

— Top House Democrat: 'I'm not for the Obama budget'

— White House backs conference committee as path to debt deal

— Top Dem appropriator joins Obama's call for food aid reform

— FHFA will extend refinance program through 2015

— Pelosi walks tightrope on Social Security cuts

— SEC accused of dawdling on JOBS Act enabling rules

— Hagel: No Obama order to gut Pentagon

— Business groups: ‘Ample’ visas needed in immigration bill

— Senate vote emboldens House lawmakers in push for online sales tax

— President Obama's budget includes $943 million bailout for FHA

Jobless benefits claims plummet by 42,000

— SEC names new economic analysis coordinator


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