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Bernanke: Recovery continues but 'won't feel terrific'

By Jennifer Liberto, senior writer

WASHINGTON (CNNMoney.com) -- Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says he expects a continuing economic recovery - "but it won't feel terrific."

In an interview at a forum late Monday in Washington, Bernanke dodged a question about whether he fears a double-dip recession, saying "nobody knows with any certainty."

"But there seems to be a good bit of momentum in consumer spending and investment, so my best guess is that we'll have a continued recovery," Bernanke told veteran TV journalist Sam Donaldson. "The reason it won't feel terrific is because it's not going to be fast enough to put back 8 million people who lost their jobs within a few years. It's going to take a while."

He warned the unemployment rate will remain high "for a while," explaining, "that means that a lot of people are going to be under financial stress."

In an unusually wide-ranging interview with Donaldson at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, the Fed chairman spoke with a little more candor than usual, Bernanke said he couldn't predict when the Fed would raise interest rates next. But he said it depends on the state of the economy, unemployment rates and inflation trends.

"The reason we don't tell people is not because we're perverse, it's because we don't exactly know when," Bernanke said.

Bernanke talked about the need for U.S. leaders to take control of the nation's deficits over the medium term, some three to six years from now, in a way "that will allow us to bring our fiscal house in order over a long period of time."

But when asked if the nation has such a plan, or if he's seen one, Bernanke said: "No. Not yet. I don't."

He wouldn't give recommendations as to whether Congress should raise taxes to cut deficits.

"That's a political question, I'm not going to try to make Congress' decision for them, they wouldn't pay attention to me anyway," Bernanke said.

Wall Street reform: Bernanke also said he agreed in principle with a provision in the Senate's regulatory reform bill that would eventually prevent banks from making risky trades for their own accounts. The measure, named for former Fed chair Paul Volcker, aims to stop so-called proprietary trading.

But Bernanke said he didn't want a blanket ban that would prohibit banks from being able to legitimately hedge risk in some cases.

He said he favors the Senate version which gives regulators, including himself, the power to figure out when a bank is shedding risk as a "legitimate customer service" and when is it "gambling with the banks' capital -- ultimately with taxpayers as a backstop."

"I think it could be made to work," he added. To top of page

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