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Kai Ryssdal: Ben Bernanke made another of his semi-regular schleps up to Capitol Hill this morning. It was at the invitation of the House Budget Committee, chaired for the first time by Representative Paul Ryan. If this were television, this would be where you’d see a little letter (R) and Wisconsin by Ryan’s name.
Today’s hearing was a meet and greet of sorts with the new majority in the House, some of whom are none too enamored of Mr. Bernanke and his $600 billion worth of bond-buying. The Fed chairman didn’t back down at all, but Marketplace’s Mitchell Hartman explains he did re-calibrate his message ever so slightly.
Mitchell Hartman: When the nation’s top banker speaks to Congress, it’s like he’s on stage at a music hall, but he’s singing a different tune to each section: the orchestra, the cheap seats in the balcony.
Bill Frenzel sat in the ‘fiscal conservative’ section in the ’80s and ’90s as top-ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee.
Bill Frenzel: Any good Fed chairman often talks in Delphic tones, and they are understood differently by different people.
So let’s take apart one of these Bernanke-isms to see what he’s saying — and to whom.
Ben Bernanke: Even after economic and financial conditions return to normal, the federal budget will remain on an unsustainable path.
That first part-about “economic conditions” returning to normal — that’s a defense of current Fed policy, keeping money cheap and plentiful.
Brian Bethune at IHS Global Insight says Bernanke’s signaling his resolve that the Fed will keep sustaining the recovery.
Brian Bethune: Even though the Fed is more upbeat, what Bernanke is trying to say is we don’t want to make the mistake of withdrawing the monetary stimulus too early.
Then, Bernanke turns to the fiscal hawks, and sings them a tune.
Bernanke: The federal budget will remain on an unsustainable path unless the Congress enacts significant changes in fiscal programs.
That’s a callout to all those new Republicans in the audience, says Frenzel.
Frenzel: You guys gotta start pulling your share of the burden too in the Congress, to inflict some fiscal sobriety.
Here, Bernanke’s message is to focus on long-term fiscal problems like health care and Social Security.
I’m Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.
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