Bernanke Faces Grilling on Fiscal Stimulus Stance

By Reuters -  |  Posted 2008-01-16 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Ben Bernanke has tried hard not to follow his predecessor Alan Greenspan into the political arena by commenting on fiscal policy, but the Federal Reserve chief will find it difficult to stay above the fray.

By Alister Bull

WASHINGTON—Ben Bernanke has tried hard not to follow his predecessor Alan Greenspan into the political arena by commenting on fiscal policy, but the Federal Reserve chief will find it difficult to stay above the fray this week.

Bernanke testifies to Congress on Thursday amid a chorus of election year demands for action to stop the U.S. economy from being tipped by a slumping housing market into recession.

"He said that fiscal stimulus is certainly needed and that he would be generally supportive of the Congress and the president enacting such a stimulus," Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat said on Wednesday, referring to a conversation he had with Bernanke on Monday.

"He said that while he wasn't going to endorse a specific plan, if an economic stimulus package was properly designed and enacted so that it enters the economy quickly, it could have a very positive effect," Schumer said at a congressional hearing.

An aide to a Republican member of the House of Representatives Budget Committee, which will hear from Bernanke at 10 a.m. (1500 GMT) on Thursday, said the Fed chief would be quizzed about the risks of a "quick band-aid solution" bringing "significant harm to the longer-term budget outlook."

But he will also be asked about potential benefits of getting a stimulus package together quickly.

"I will ask him what steps he believes are necessary to address the problems troubling our economy," said Rep. John Spratt, the Democrat from South Carolina who chairs the budget panel.

"The Federal Reserve has been easing monetary conditions in response to this slowdown, but Congress and the president must move quickly to enact a fiscal stimulus plan as a complement to the Fed's actions," he said in a statement on Tuesday.

The Fed has slashed its key interest rate by a full percentage point since mid-September and financial markets expect Bernanke on Thursday to restate his remarks of January 10 "to take substantive additional action as needed to support growth".

This was read by markets as a signal to expect a half-percentage point interest-rate cut at the Fed's next meeting on January 29-30. Bernanke's words on the economy will be examined closely for any sign of a shift in tone.

Page 2: Bring Back Keynes



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