Fed pressured to detail its support system

Nearly a dozen Democratic and Republican senators are ramping up pressure on the Federal Reserve to release details of all the central bank's steps to shore up the economy.

The Fed has declined to release information on the complete commitments it has made under its powers to support firms under "unusual and exigent circumstances," a wide-ranging power the Fed has had since the 1930s.

Since the financial crisis erupted last year, a growing number of Democrats, Republicans and other critics have lambasted the Fed for not releasing more information about the trillions of dollars in commitments the bank has made to firms across the country.

On Friday, 11 senators sent Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke a letter seeking the names and amount of assistance for every firm that the central bank has supported. The government has aided the financial sector through a variety of programs, including the $700 billion bailout package known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

"In light of recent announcements by Goldman Sachs, J. P. Morgan Chase, and others that are reporting very large profits after paying back the TARP funds to the U.S. government, we don’t believe there is now any reason for the Federal Reserve Board to refuse to share information about the companies that were helped by its activities as well as the specific amount of such help for each company,” the senators wrote in the letter.

The senators include: Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).

A bill sponsored by Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and supported by hundreds of Democratic and Republican House members calls for an audit of the Federal Reserve by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The increased pressure on the Fed comes as the Obama administration seeks to empower the central bank with new authorities to oversee "systemic risk" in the financial system. As part of the administration's overhaul plan, however, the Fed would lose its consumer protection responsibilities to a new agency.