This Week July 20 - 24

The Week Ahead: Bernanke Takes the Spotlight at Congress, PBS

Monday, July 20, 2009

This week, it's all Ben Bernanke, all the time.

The Federal Reserve chairman will be under the spotlight four times in the next six days in what adds up to an unusual publicity blitz for a central banker. On Tuesday and Wednesday, he delivers his semiannual testimony on monetary policy to House and Senate committees. Look for him to affirm his view that the economy will bottom out and that growth will resume by the end of the year. Look for him to couch that by saying that the expansion will be weak at first. On Friday, he is to make another Capitol Hill appearance, on regulatory reform.

Then Sunday, Bernanke will go before a live audience at Kansas City, Mo., in a town-hall meeting hosted by Jim Lehrer of "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" on PBS. For one hour, Lehrer and the assembled audience plan to question Bernanke about the economy and the Fed's response to the financial crisis. It is to be broadcast in three parts over the following week on "NewsHour," though financial media will have access as it is being taped Sunday evening and will report any news immediately.

The special follows a successful appearance on "60 Minutes" in the spring, and continues Bernanke's strategy of taking a more public profile to try to instill confidence in the Fed and in the economy more generally. His appearance on the CBS news magazine show helped calm jittery nerves in financial markets as Bernanke projected an image of calm, strong leadership; the open question is whether he can repeat that performance.

In all likelihood, he will retread many of the same themes at the town-hall meeting that he will offer to Congress, adopting his economics professor style to explain why the recession is so deep and to defend the Fed's aggressive actions to contain it. Careful Fed-watchers can compare the quality of the questions asked by ordinary Americans on Sunday versus those of members of Congress in the previous week; they may not be as sophisticated, but it's a safe bet they will be shorter.

-- Neil Irwin


On the Financial Times Web site, economist Mark Gertler warns Congress to tread carefully lest it threaten the Fed's independence, and the Wall Street Journal has a guide to the economics blogosphere.

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