Janet Yellen visited the U.S. Senate and chatted with lawmakers outside the chamber today, three days after its members confirmed her as the first woman to head the Federal Reserve in its 100-year history.
“Welcome to the wilds of Capitol Hill,” New York Senator Charles Schumer, the chamber’s third-ranking Democrat, said while congratulating Yellen on her Jan. 6 confirmation.
Yellen also spoke just off the Senate floor with Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, one of 11 Republicans who backed her for the Fed post. Yellen, 67, was confirmed by a 56-26 vote.
The Fed’s current vice chairman, Yellen will replace Ben S. Bernanke, whose second term as chairman expires Jan. 31. The Fed has been trimming monthly bond purchases in a first step toward lessening its unprecedented stimulus program.
Yellen’s informal Capitol Hill appearance is unusual for such a high-ranking Fed official and notable because as vice chairman, she has had limited opportunities to interact with lawmakers.
The visit came hours after Bernanke voiced optimism during a meeting with Democratic senators about the outlook for economic growth while warning of the drag from fiscal austerity, according to a lawmaker at the gathering.
“He gave the state of the economy and it was very optimistic,” said Senator Barbara Boxer of California after the closed-door session. “He feels it’s very important not to have austerity.”
Alaska Senator Mark Begich, a Democrat, said after the meeting with Bernanke that the key for Yellen “is to be coming back to Congress on a regular basis, talking to us, telling us what’s going on, keeping us informed through committees or through these kinds of meetings.”
Bernanke said Jan. 3 the headwinds that have held back the economy may be abating, leaving the country poised for faster growth. Policy makers, citing improvements in the economy, last month trimmed the Fed’s monthly bond buying to $75 billion from $85 billion, taking a first step toward unwinding the stimulus engineered by Bernanke.
“The combination of financial healing, greater balance in the housing market, less fiscal restraint, and, of course, continued monetary policy accommodation bodes well for U.S. economic growth in coming quarters,” Bernanke said in a speech in Philadelphia.
The lunch meeting probably was Bernanke’s final face-to-face session with a group of senators before his second term expires.
“The overall tone of his message was a positive one,” said Senator Tom Carper, a Democrat from Delaware. The Fed chairman said “the improving energy position that we find our nation in, the strengthening of our financial institutions, the modest reduction in our deficits, are all positives,” Carper said.
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