Two congressional committees begin writing bills this week that could have a significant economic impact if enacted.

On Thursday, a subcommittee of the House Education and Labor Committee is expected to consider legislation raising the minimum wage from the current $3.35 per hour to $4.65 per hour. Proponents say a higher minimum wage -- it has not been increased since 1981 -- will provide overdue support for low-income workers; opponents believe a higher minimum wage will discourage employers from hiring and thus increase unemployment.

The Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee has not yet taken up the legislation.

On Tuesday, the Senate Banking Committee is scheduled to begin its long-awaited process of drafting a final version of legislation to deregulate banking, including repeal of the 55-year-old law that separates commercial banking from securities underwriting. That day, the moratorium that Congress imposed last summer that prevents regulators from giving banks new securities-underwriting powers will expire, guaranteeing that Congress will have missed its self-imposed deadline to pass comprehensive banking legislation.

House and Senate conferees seeking to reconcile differing versions of legislation to revamp the nation's trade laws are expected to reach agreement late next week on the first stage of the massive bill -- starting with the least controversial issues.

Most of the more explosive trade issues have been put off until after the Super Tuesday primaries on March 8.

Several major economic indicators are due to be released, giving more hints on the direction of the economy. On Tuesday, the Commerce Department's index of leading indicators for January, which has fallen three months in a row, will be issued. Friday, the Labor Department releases the unemployment figures for February.