Yellen to defend Federal Reserve policies before Senate Banking committee


Janet Yellen meets with Sen. Charles Schumer,( D-NY), after her nomination to be chair of the Federal Reserve, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 7. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
November 13, 2013

Janet Yellen plans to defend the Federal Reserve’s stimulus program and communication efforts Thursday during a Senate hearing on her nomination to lead the central bank, according to her prepared remarks.

In her testimony, Yellen characterized the economy as “significantly stronger” than it was when the recession began six years ago and said the recovery “continues to improve.” She pointed to the turnaround in housing and strong auto sales as bright spots but added that the nation’s stubbornly high unemployment rate indicates “a labor market and economy performing far short of their potential.”

There is heated debate over whether the recovery’s gains can be sustained — and how involved the Fed should be in propping them up. In her testimony, Yellen argued that even though the economy is on the mend, it is not ready to stand on its own.

“I believe that supporting the recovery today is the surest path to returning to a more normal approach to monetary policy,” she said.

Her testimony before the Senate banking committee will be the first substantive remarks Yellen has made since she was nominated for the top job at the central bank. Currently the No. 2 at the Fed, Yellen has been a stalwart supporter of the Fed’s easy-money policies and led the effort to publicly establish a 2 percent goal for inflation.

Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke helped usher in an era of unprecedented openness at the historically secretive institution. Yellen said that she plans to continue that work if confirmed.

“I strongly believe that monetary policy is most effective when the public understands what the Fed is trying to do and how it plans to do it,” she said in her statement.

Yellen said the Fed has made progress in strengthening its regulation of banks. She also obliquely acknowledged concerns that the Fed’s stimulus efforts could have the unintended consequence of destabilizing the financial system.

The central bank “has sharpened its focus on financial stability and is taking that goal into consideration when carrying out its responsibilities for monetary policy,” she said.

Lawmakers are likely to grill her about the expanded role the Fed has taken in the wake of the financial crisis. Investors will be parsing her comments for hints of when the Fed might scale back its stimulus effort of $85 billion a month and its commitment to keeping short-term interest rates near zero.

Analysts do not anticipate either group will get satisfactory answers.

“We do not expect Yellen to express strong policy opinions in her hearing, as any hint could both hurt her chances of confirmation and unnecessarily rattle financial markets,” said Gennadiy Goldberg, U.S. strategist for TD Securities. “We expect Yellen to take a largely middling approach, volunteering little we do not already know about her views.”

In a statement, Banking Committee Chairman Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) heralded Yellen’s track record of raising alarms about a potential bubble in housing prices before the recession.

“Dr. Yellen has proven through her extensive and impressive record in public service and academia that she is most qualified to be the next chair of the Federal Reserve,” Johnson said.

A committee vote on Yellen is not expected Thursday, but her nomination is almost certain to be sent to the full Senate for confirmation. Several Republicans have threatened to block the process once it reaches the floor, but aides on both sides of the aisle privately say her nomination is unlikely to be derailed.

“Once the theatrics are through, we expect Yellen to get confirmed as the next chair of the Federal Reserve,” Goldberg said.

Ylan Q. Mui is a financial reporter at The Washington Post covering the Federal Reserve and the economy.
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