Once again, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will be leading the economic news this week. Bernanke goes before the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday to deliver his semiannual monetary policy report, and does the same for the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday.
During both appearances, Bernanke is sure to hear a number of pointed questions about the Fed’s stimulus program and especially about the timeline for the “taper” – the gradual reduction of the size of the Fed’s monthly bond purchases that is expected to begin this fall. Lawmakers are sure to quiz Bernanke on other topics as well, especially the tepid pace of the labor market recovery.
Bernanke’s hearings won’t be the only committee actions worth keeping an eye on this week. On Tuesday the Senate Banking Committee will consider a number of President Obama’s nominees to important regulatory positions, including Rep. Melvin Watt, D-N.C., who is slated to oversee mortgage buyers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; Jason Furman, a nominee to run the president’s Council of Economic Advisers; and three potential members of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
On Wednesday the Senate Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection subcommittee, chaired by the anti-big bank liberal populist Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, will hold hearings to examine the consumer debt industry. Also, on Thursday, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman will appear before the House Committee on Ways and Means to discuss President Obama’s trade policy agenda.
In other congressional action, the Senate may vote on a bill to retroactively keep interest rates on federally subsidized Stafford loans from doubling from 3.4 to 6.8 percent. Legislation setting the rates at 3.4 percent expired on July 1. The House passed a bill that would tie the rate to the market-determined interest rates on Treasury bonds, a plan that the White House also favors in its broad outlines. Senate Democrats, however, didn’t support the measure and now are trying to pass a stop-gap measure to keep the rate at its current level until next year.
The chairman and ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, Sens. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, respectively, announced last week that they had reached an agreement on legislation intended to shore up the finances of the Federal Housing Administration and that they planned to release details about the bill this week.
Outside of Washington, one big story this week will be the trial of Fabrice “Fabulous Fab” Tourre, the former Goldman Sachs employee known for his role in the infamous fraud investigation of the failed “Abacus” mortgage-backed security deal. Goldman Sachs settled with the SEC in 2010, but the trial in the civil case is scheduled to begin Monday. “Goldman’s actions during the mortgage boom will be rehashed, in vivid detail, during what is expected to be a three-week trial in U.S. District Court in Manhattan,” the Wall Street Journal’s Justin Baer writes.