A few weeks ago, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke appeared before the Senate Banking Committee for his confirmation hearing. Following the normal ritual, Committee members made their statements and peppered Bernanke with questions about every economic topic under the sun. That much is well-known (and was closely followed on CNBC).
What’s less well-known is that Bernanke went back to his office to discover an enormous stack of homework, including a 70-question take-home exam from Senator Jim Bunning.
Senator Bunning’s questions cover a lot of territory: Fed policy, fiscal policy, AIG, the dollar, etc. Chairman Bernanke’s answers are worth a read, when you have time for a 34-page, single-spaced document.
Here’s one important excerpt, reiterating the Fed’s view that Lehman could not have been saved with then-existing authorities:
54. What was your rationale for letting Lehman fail?
Concerted government attempts to find a buyer for Lehman Brothers or to develop an industry solution proved unsuccessful. Moreover, providers of both secured and unsecured credit to the company were rapidly pulling away from the company and the company needed funding well above the amount that could be provided on a secured basis. As you know, the Federal Reserve cannot make an unsecured loan. Because the ability to provide capital to the institution had not yet been authorized under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, the firm’s failure was, unfortunately, unavoidable. The Lehman situation is a clear example of why the government needs the ability to wind down a large, interconnected firm in an orderly way that both mitigates the costs on society as whole and imposes losses on the shareholders and creditors of the failing firm.
P.S. Calculated Risk also posts some good excerpts.