By Vicki Needham - 05/15/13 11:25 PM EDT
THURSDAY'S BIG STORY:
Let's give this a try: A Senate committee on Thursday will take another shot at approving President Obama's nominee, Thomas Perez, to lead the Labor Department.
Perez, who is head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, is facing serious resistance from Senate Republicans, who say he still hasn't fulfilled their request for specific documents.
Still, he will likely clear the Senate Heath, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on a party-line vote.
But after that, his nomination is expected to come to a screeching halt outside the doors of the Senate floor.
While Senate Democrats consider options to move the nomination, Perez will probably be in limbo until Republicans get all of the documents they want and are satisfied that Perez acted ethically and appropriately.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he feels like Perez is willing to go around the law to achieve his objectives. House and Senate Republicans contend that Perez acted unethically in a deal with city officials in St. Paul, Minn.
They argue he convinced the city to drop a Supreme Court appeal that would have had a potentially adverse effect on discrimination cases in exchange for the Justice Department's agreement to step away from two whistle-blower cases.
"I think the fact that the personal emails haven't been responded to in the House in terms of the subpoena are enough for me to have serious concerns," Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) told The Hill.
Meanwhile, Democratic support for Perez has been unwavering.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said she certainly hopes the panel can approve his nomination on Thursday.
Holder and House Government Reform and Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) had a tense exchange over Perez that made headlines.
In trying to respond to Issa, Holder said, “I am not going to stop talking now."
"It is inappropriate and too consistent with the way in which you conduct yourself as a member of Congress," Holder said. "It is unacceptable. It is shameful."
WHAT ELSE WE'RE WATCHING
Trade talks: A House Ways and Means subcommittee will gather to talk about U.S.-EU trade negotiations, which are set to start in July, on Thursday. U.S. and European leaders say they are committed to crafting a comprehensive agreement that would lower tariffs and harmonize a wide array of regulations. British Prime Minister David Cameron said during a trip to Washington this week that all sectors of the two trading partners' economies must be on the table for the negotiations.
Happy birthday: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Latin America Trade Coalition and the Association of American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America will host a forum to celebrate the 1-year anniversary of the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement on Thursday.
The event will feature U.S. and Colombian trade officials, along with Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), who was chairman of the Ways and Means subcommittee on Trade when the deal was implemented. Between May 2012, when the FTA went into effect, and February, U.S. goods exports to Colombia increased 20 percent to $15.9 billion. Agricultural exports to Colombia increased nearly 62 percent to $1.26 billion over the same timeframe, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said.
SEC budget: On Thursday, the House Financial Services Committee will talk to Securities and Exchange Commission Chairwoman Mary Jo White about the agency's $1.6 billion budget request, which is a 27 percent increase over the SEC’s request in fiscal 2012. The request would support 5,180 positions and 4,638 full-time employees while allowing the agency to hire 676 more people.
Housing reform: A House Financial Services subcommittee will chat with several government officials about the government's role in providing mortgage insurance to multifamily residences and healthcare facilities while examining ways to reform the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).
Talking Turkey: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Thursday will discuss U.S. private sector involvement in Turkey with that country’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The meeting will mark the launch of the Chamber’s U.S.-Turkey Business Council (USTBC), a trade and investment advocacy organization representing top U.S. firms doing business with Turkey.
The prime minister also will meet with President Obama at the White House on Thursday.
More spending bills: A House Appropriations Committee subcommittee will mark up of the fiscal 2014 Homeland Security bill, which provides $38.9 billion, a decrease of $618 million from current levels.
In a draft on Wednesday, House appropriators reversed the Obama administration's cuts to bombing prevention in the wake of the Boston Marathon attack.
President Obama had called for a 39 percent cut to the program, but the draft provides $8.5 million more than Obama requested in his 2014 budget released last month.
Senate spending: A couple of Senate Appropriations subcommittees will take up the request for the fiscal 2014 Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) budget with FBI Director Robert Mueller, as well as requests for several agricultural programs, including food safety and marketing and regulatory programs.
Let's talk economy: Federal Reserve Board of Governors member Sarah Bloom Raskin will speak at a lunch held by the National Economists Club and the Society of Government Economists in Washington about the prospects of a stronger economic recovery for the nation.
I'll get this round: The 17th round of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks got started in Peru on Wednesday with negotiating groups discussing e-commerce, rules of origin, sanitary and phytosanitary issues and legal issues. On Thursday, the groups will chat about financial services and intellectual property rights issues in the 11-nation talks.
Miller is out: Steven Miller, the acting Internal Revenue Service (IRS) commissioner, resigned Wednesday over his role in the agency’s singling out of conservative groups, President Obama announced at the White House.
Miller’s resignation, which Treasury Secretary Jack Lew requested on Wednesday, makes him the first IRS official to lose their job in the uproar over the agency’s actions, which were first disclosed publicly last week.
In other revelations: IRS staffers began singling out Tea Party groups over concerns about the amount of political activity being conducted by those organizations.
In explaining its actions, the IRS said that, as is normal practice, it used criteria to screen which groups applying for tax-exempt status needed more scrutiny.
The IRS said Wednesday that its chief counsel William Wilkins was not involved in overseeing applications for 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status, and that Wilkins “did not learn about specific groups being singled out by name until earlier this year.”
A new report from Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration says that staffers met with the chief counsel just over a month after a separate official told employees to stop flagging cases based on names like “Tea Party” and “patriots.”
Obama met on Wednesday afternoon with leaders from the Treasury Department to discuss the administration's response to the IRS scandal.
Meanwhile, House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said report leaves many questions unanswered, such as who exactly put into place extra screening for Tea Party groups seeking tax exempt status.
“I think the IG report is almost as significant for what it doesn’t cover, as much as what it does cover,” Camp said. “Certainly, it’s some additional information, but there’s a lot they don’t go into.”
Also on Wednesday, House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said he expects the former IRS commissioner, Doug Shulman, to testify next Wednesday.
Lois Lerner, the IRS official who first publicly disclosed the extra scrutiny directed at Tea party groups, and Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration, Russell George, have also been invited to testify.
In another busy day of action around the issue, Senate Republicans demanded that Obama be “fully forthcoming” during congressional investigations.
All 45 GOP senators said in a letter that they were “deeply disturbed” by the findings of a Treasury inspector general’s report that found that ineffective management had led to the extra scrutiny of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.
“This type of purely political scrutiny being conducted by an Executive Branch Agency is yet another completely inexcusable attempt to chill the speech of political opponents and those who would question their government, consistent with a broader pattern of intimidation by arms of your administration to silence political dissent,” the senators wrote in the letter organized by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), the ranking Republican at the Finance Committee.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) joined the growing chorus calling for resignations at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), specifically saying that acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller should step down immediately.
Earlier in the day, Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) said Miller and Lerner should resign.
"My own judgment is that, based on the report from the inspector general, I think there's reason to believe that Mr. Miller should be released of his responsibilities as well as Ms. Lerner," Levin said in an interview on MSNBC. "There was such total mismanagement."
Apple on the hot seat: Apple's offshore tax practices will be the topic of a May 21 hearing. The firm hasn't paid taxes on more than $40 billion in earned outside the United States, according to reports.
Initial Claims: The Labor Department releases its weekly filings for jobless benefits.
Mortgage Rates: Freddie Mac is releasing weekly data on fixed-rate mortgages, which remain around historic lows.
Consumer Price Index (CPI): The Labor Department releases its April report measuring the prices of a fixed market basket of goods and services purchased by consumers. CPI is the most widely cited inflation indicator and it is used to calculate cost-of-living adjustments for government programs.
Housing Starts-Building Permits: The Commerce Department releases its April report on the number of residential units under construction along with building permits, which allow work to start and are a forward looking indicator of where the sector is headed.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
— CBO: Repealing Obama healthcare law will increase budget deficit
— Boehner pleads for House GOP unity on debt ceiling
— House panel passes $73.3B military construction, Veterans Affairs bill
— Corporate lawyer joins federal regulator team
— White House pans bill limiting the SEC’s regulatory power
— House Ag defeats food stamp amendments
— House Agriculture panel keeps farm bill dairy program opposed by Boehner
— Pritzker set for May 23 nomination hearing
— Feds crack down on bitcoin exchange
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