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News from the House Budget Committee

June 3, 2009

News from the House Budget Committee

U.S. Rep. John Spratt (D-SC) – Chairman
House of Representatives, Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009 – For Immediate Release
Contact: Chuck Fant, 202-226-2651

Spratt Opening Statement at Hearing with Fed Chairman Bernanke

WASHINGTON – House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt made the following opening statement at a hearing today, “Challenges Facing the Economy: The View of the Federal Reserve,” with Federal Reserve Chairman Benjamin S. Bernanke.

“We meet to hear the distinguished Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Benjamin Bernanke, testify on the recession plaguing our economy and on the prospects of recovery.

“Chairman Bernanke testified before our committee on October 20 of last year, as we searched for ways to mitigate, if not avoid, a long recession. The Chairman acknowledged then that monetary policy has its limits, and without being specific, welcomed a fiscal complement.

“Congress had just passed a bi-partisan bill authorizing $700 billion to dispose of troubled assets–so-called TARP. Backed by these funds, the Treasury, Fed, and FDIC made extraordinary advances to banks and other financial institutions, recognizing what Chairman Bernanke told the Joint Economic Committee last month, that ‘a sustained recovery in economic activity depends critically on restoring stability to the financial system.’ This is one question we hope you will address: How strong are our financial institutions?

“By February of this year, it was clear that TARP relief was a necessary but not sufficient solution. So, Congress passed, on a partisan basis, an even bigger boost, the Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which packed $787 billion of fiscal stimuli, in the form of spending increases and tax decreases. We would like to know, Mr. Chairman, whether from the Fed’s viewpoint, this huge counter-cyclical thrust is working.

“Bold action was necessary to head off a collapse of the financial system, but the steps taken also swelled the nation’s deficit and the national debt. It’s all but impossible to balance the budget when the economy is bucking a headwind like this recession, because what we do to make the economy better is likely to make the deficit worse.

“Yet at the same time, we cannot add infinitely to the national debt, without facing the consequences in the global credit markets, or on our future capacity to borrow. One purpose of this hearing is to explore both the advantages and the potential downside risks of our bold and unprecedented response to financial turmoil. Should we be concerned that some of our swelling debt must be financed with foreign credit?

“We hope that most of our outlays are for non-recurring needs, and that much of what has been advanced in recent months will, in time, be recovered, and used to pay down the debt we are incurring. We would like to have your assessment, Mr. Chairman, of that possibility.

“Despite bold, unprecedented action, the Director of the Congressional Budget Office told this committee on May 21st that our economy was still running at 7% or more below capacity, or a trillion dollars per year below its potential. Recently, there have been signs of a turn-around: business inventories are down, the stock market is up, and so to some extent, is the housing market. Our question to you, Mr. Chairman, is whether these are glimmers or hope or flashes in the pan.

“To keep this recession from growing worse, the Fed has pumped enormous liquidity into the money markets, so much that some critics even worry of inflation, just over the horizon. The spread between short and long term Treasuries has widened to more than 2.5 percentage points. We would like to know, Mr. Chairman, if these are salutary signs of recovery or ominous signs of inflation?

“A month ago, Chairman Bernanke told the Joint Economic Committee that ‘we expect economic activity to bottom out, then turn up later this year, but he went on to warn that “even after the recovery gets underway, the rate of real economic growth is likely to remain below its potential for a while…only gradually gaining momentum.’

“The old locomotives that pulled the economy out of the rut in the past — real estate and consumer durables — are unavailing now. This causes us to ask: what will empower a turn-around in this dismal economy? And when can we expect a return to normality?

“Mr. Chairman, we have a lot of grist for our mill. We thank you for being here, but above all, for your service to our nation at a very crucial time. Before proceeding with your statement, let me turn to Mr. Ryan for his opening remarks.”

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