Bernanke keeps focus on jobs, warns on Europe

Thu Nov 10, 2011 5:11pm EST
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By Mark Felsenthal

FORT BLISS, Texas (Reuters) - Defending the Federal Reserve on the turf of his harshest critics, central bank chief Ben Bernanke on Thursday said the Fed was "intently" focused on lowering unemployment and warned that strains from Europe could trigger global economic shocks.

"For a lot of people, I know, it doesn't feel like the recession ever ended," Bernanke said at a town hall-style forum at an Army base outside of the Texas border town of El Paso.

"I'm not a believer in the Old Testament theory of business cycles. I think that if we can help people, we need to help people."

The Fed, and Bernanke in particular, has drawn fire from conservatives fearful the central bank's aggressive easing of monetary policy could debase the U.S. dollar and send inflation soaring.

Two of the harshest critics are Texans and Republican presidential candidates: Governor Rick Perry and Representative Ron Paul.

Paul authored a book titled "End the Fed," while Perry has equated Fed policy with treason and suggested Texans might treat Bernanke "pretty ugly" if he were to visit.

Bernanke, who met troops returning from Iraq at 2:45 a.m., used the military backdrop to defend the central bank's aggressive policies and rebut charges it was recklessly spending government money.

Several soldiers asked how simmering euro zone sovereign debt turmoil might affect the U.S. economy, and Bernanke told them it was important European leaders contain the crisis, which some see as the main risk to the U.S. recovery.   Continued...

<p>Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke pauses during a news conference following a two-day policy session in Washington November 2, 2011. REUTERS/Jason Reed</p>