The Fed might also leave the rate unchanged if declines in unemployment are primarily caused by people leaving the workforce â¿¿ not more hiring. The government counts people as unemployed only if they are actively looking for a job.

At one point in the hearing, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., prodded Bernanke to evaluate the job Congress has done to support the economy. Corker said lawmakers have grown too dependent on the Fed's efforts to drive growth, instead of taking action to help.

Bernanke offered measured criticism. The Fed has shouldered "an awful lot of the burden" to drive economic growth, he said. He and other Fed officials would have been very happy to "share that burden" with Congress.

Lawmakers, however, have spent too much energy implementing tax increases and spending cuts, Bernanke said. Those actions could end up reducing economic growth by 1.5 percentage points this year.

But Bernanke said it wasn't the Fed's role to force lawmakers to act.

"I don't think it's my place or the Federal Reserve's place to try to force Congress to come to any particular outcome," Bernanke said.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., agreed with Corker that Congress should have done more.

"We have let you down," he told Bernanke. "The kindergarten of Congress has let you down by not doing the things to create confidence in the business community."

___

AP Business Writers Christina Rexrode in New York and Marcy Gordon in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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