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Bernanke Will Likely Be Pressed On Fed Bond Buying

By MARTIN CRUTSINGER

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Chairman Ben Bernanke will be pressed to clarify the Federal Reserve's approach to the still-sluggish U.S. economy when he testifies to Congress this week.

Bernanke will give his semiannual report to the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday and the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday.

Lawmakers will likely question the chairman about the future of the Fed's bond buying program, his view of the economy and his concerns about the budget impasse between Congress and the Obama administration.

Here are some issues Bernanke will likely face and his possible responses:

Q: The Federal Reserve announced in December that it planned to buy Treasurys and mortgage bonds at a rate of $85 billion a month. It's said it plans to keep buying bonds until the job market improves "substantially." But the minutes of the Fed's January meeting showed that several officials worried that the bond purchases could eventually escalate inflation, unsettle investors or cause the Fed to absorb losses once it begins selling its investments. There's clearly division within the Fed's policy committee. Can you explain the Fed's thinking?

A: Bernanke said at a global finance meeting this month that the U.S. economy was recovering. But he added that with unemployment at 7.9 percent, "we are still far from healthy, vibrant conditions." That was seen as a sign that he's still comfortable with the pace of the bond purchases. Still, Bernanke might address the worries of some Fed policymakers. If he signals agreement with them, it could suggest that the Fed may scale back its purchases from $85 billion a month sometime this year. Many analysts think he won't dismiss the concerns but will seek to minimize them. For example, he may say there's no evidence inflation is getting out of hand. He's also likely to repeat that in determining the size of future bond purchases, the Fed will balance the benefits of further purchases against the risks. The bond purchases are intended to keep long-term interest rates low and encourage borrowing and spending.

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