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Following the 'Maestro'

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has not achieved the rock star status of his predecessor, Alan Greenspan, but members of Congress do appreciate one thing about Bernanke -- they can actually understand what he's saying.

Bernanke was on the Hill this morning to testify before the House Budget Committee, and panel members found his style refreshing.

"I don't think you have to resort to a translator as often" with Bernanke, said Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), a member of the Budget panel.

Greenspan was famous on the Hill and on Wall Street for making opaque statements. He gave "Rorschach testimony" -- everyone heard what they wanted.

Capitol Briefing fondly remembers, after various Greenspan appearances, getting press releases from Republicans saying, "Greenspan Endorses Tax Cuts," followed quickly by Democratic releases saying, "Greenspan Cautions Against Tax Cuts." Were they watching the same hearing?

"It was always entertaining ... and I'm not sure he didn't derive a little bit of pleasure from communicating both sides of an argument," Hensarling said.

Not so with Bernanke, members happily report.

"It just seemed to me that he's direct," Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), another Budget member, said of today's Bernanke appearance.

Noting the "oracle approach" taken by Greenspan, Blumenauer said Bernanke "is being the anti-oracle."

Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.) agreed. "One doesn't get a sense that Bernanke is being so deliberately opaque," he said.

While the contrast with Greenspan makes him seem relatively plain-spoken, Bernanke isn't a completely open book.

"His responses are slightly more clear, but he's a Fed chairman so it's coded into his DNA to be imprecise," said Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), the Budget panel's top Republican.

Clear or not, Bernanke apparently has other virtues.

"He cracks more jokes," Ryan said.

By Ben Pershing  |  January 17, 2008; 4:16 PM ET
Categories:  Hearing Watch  
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