The last episode of the Bunning and Bernanke show?
By Neil Irwin
Regulars at Ben Bernanke hearings on Capitol Hill know that many of his usual interlocutors on the Senate Banking Committee use recurring themes during their questioning. When the Federal Reserve chairman goes before the committee this afternoon for his semi-annual testimony on monetary policy, for example, there is a good chance that Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) will complain that interest rates were too low during the early part of the 2000s, and that Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) will push Bernanke to move more aggressively on regulating credit cards and mortgage loans.
But even when senators criticize Bernanke, things remain quite civil. That's not always the case when Sen. Jim Bunning gets his turn. The Kentucky Republican tends to take a more, er, aggressive tack. But this may well be Bernanke's last time to get the Bunning treatment; the former major league pitcher is retiring, so unless Bernanke has to make another appearance before the banking committee this year, this is the end of the Jim and Ben show. One supposes that Bernanke will shed no tears.
Having fired up Nexis, here are some excerpts from Bunning's questioning of Bernanke from the last couple of years. The Hitler reference comes near the end.
"You have decided that just about every large bank, investment bank, insurance company, and even some industrial companies are too big to fail. Rather than making management, shareholders and debtholders feel the consequences of their risk-taking, you bailed them out. In short, you are the definition of a moral hazard."
"From monetary policy to regulation, consumer protection, transparency and independence, your time as Fed chairman has been a failure."
"I will do everything I can to stop your nomination and drag out this process as long as I can."
"Chairman Bernanke's easy money in the last year has undermined the dollar and sent oil prices to a new high every day, and the most doubling since the rate cut started."
"Now the Fed wants to be a systemic risk regulator. But the Fed is a systemic risk. Giving the Fed more power is like giving a neighborhood kid who broke a window playing baseball in the street a bigger bat and thinking that will fix the problem. I'm not going to go along with that, and I will use every power in my arsenal as a senator to stop any new powers going to the Fed."
"When I picked up my newspaper yesterday, I thought I woke up in France. But, no, it turned out it was socialism here in the United States, and very well -- going well. The Treasury secretary is now asking for a blank check to buy as much Fannie and Freddie debt, or equity, as he wants. The Fed purchase of Bear Stearns assets was amateur socialism compared to this."-- July 15, 2008, monetary policy hearing
"I must take the opportunity to comment on Chairman Bernanke being named Time magazine person of the year yesterday. One financial blogger wrote yesterday that this was like rewarding the captain of the Titanic for getting everyone off the sinking ship after he rammed it into the iceberg. And Chairman Bernanke may wonder if he really wants to be honored by an organization that has previously named people like Josef Stalin twice, Yasser Arafat, Adolf Hitler, the Ayatollah Khomeini, Vladimir Putin, Richard Nixon twice, as their person of the year. But I congratulate him and hope he at least turns out better than most of those people."-- December 17, 2009, hearing to vote on Bernanke nomination for second term
One side note: the Republican candidate to replace Bunning is Rand Paul, son of Ron Paul, a frequent antagonist of Bernanke on the House Financial Services Committee. If the younger Paul were to win and snag a seat on the Senate Banking Committee, perhaps Bernanke will continue to be in the hot seat when a Kentucky senator's name is called.
July 21, 2010; 11:43 AM ET
Categories: Federal Reserve
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