Bernanke steps up outreach to GOP, media in wake of midterm elections

Ben Bernanke has stepped up his outreach to Republican lawmakers and launched a major media blitz to explain controversial decisions he has made at the Federal Reserve. 

The Fed chairman’s enhanced accessibility to the Fourth Estate coincided with his move to inject $600 billion into the economy a day after the midterm elections, which outraged many Republicans. 

Between Aug. 1 and Sept. 30 of last year, Bernanke granted only one media interview. But as the GOP electoral wave grew larger, Bernanke increased his interaction with journalists, according to a review of his daily schedule.

He met with news outlets a half-dozen times in October and an additional 13 times after the $600 billion initiative was announced. Some were over breakfast and lunch, according to Bernanke’s schedule, which was provided to The Hill in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. 

A few of the interviews were on the record, such as his second “60 Minutes” appearance in December, when Bernanke took on his critics, saying, “We’re not printing money.” 

Other interviews were done on a background basis. 

Bernanke’s public calendar does not detail the names of the reporters or their affiliations.

A Federal Reserve spokesman declined to comment. 

Since the election, Bernanke has also met with several of the new House GOP committee chairmen, including Reps. Dave Camp (Mich.), Spencer Bachus (Ala.), Darrell Issa (Calif.) and Paul Ryan (Wis.). 

 Bernanke, who was nominated by President George W. Bush and renominated by President Obama, also held meetings with Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) in December. 

The Fed chairman dined last fall with Senate Banking Committee ranking member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) at Tosca, an Italian restaurant in Washington. 

Shelby and Thune voted against Bernanke’s confirmation last year, while Johanns approved it. 

 The only Democrat Bernanke has met with since the midterm election is Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.).

 However, members on both sides of the aisle have said Bernanke has been very accessible.

Anne Khademian, program director for the Center for Public Administration and Policy at Virginia Tech, said it’s “very natural” for Bernanke to extend his hand to Republicans because he has to work with them on a range of issues.

 She said his contacts with the media illustrate his desire to educate the public on the maneuvers of the Fed. 

 “He believes markets work best when they have clear information,” Khademian said.

Bernanke in January appeared on CNBC to discuss the economy in a forum sponsored by the FDIC and the cable news network. And addressing the National Press Club last week, Bernanke said a committee at the Federal Reserve might start to hold regular news conferences. 

Many Fed watchers have praised Bernanke’s openness, noting that former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan did not release his public schedule and was more opaque in dealing with the media and Congress.

They add that it’s in Bernanke’s best interests to communicate through the media, noting that he has received more criticism than previous chairmen — especially in the wake of the 2008 financial implosion.

For example, a new report from a commission set up by Congress found that the economic turmoil could have been avoided. It concluded Bernanke and others had the opportunity to remedy the situation before lawmakers passed the Troubled Asset Relief Program. 

“Whether he likes it or not, Bernanke is a presence in this difficult economic time,” Khademian said.

One lawmaker who was not on Bernanke’s calendar is Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), a new Financial Services subcommittee chairman who wrote the book, “End the Fed”.

Paul will hold his first hearing to examine the impact of Federal Reserve policies on job creation and the unemployment rate.Bernanke is not scheduled to testify before Paul's panel though he will appear before the House Budget Committee on Wednesday. 

The two officials who show up the most on Bernanke’s schedule are Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. 

Others with whom Bernanke met last year include Elizabeth Warren, head of the new Consumer Financial Protection  Bureau; Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.); and actor Paul Giamatti.

 Giamatti portrays Bernanke in the upcoming HBO movie “Too Big to Fail.”

Bernanke's public schedule can be found here and here.

This story was originally published at 3:06 p.m. and updated at 8:27 p.m.