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GOP wants Yellen to show QE 'regret': Ex-Fed wonk

Thursday, 14 Nov 2013 | 8:41 AM ET
Will be easy confirmation for Yellen: Pro
Thursday, 14 Nov 2013 | 7:07 AM ET
Discussing what questions the Senate Banking Committee will have for Janet Yellen at her confirmation meeting for Fed Chair, as well as QEs impact on stocks, with former Fed economists Kevin Hassett, American Enterprise Institute, and Catherine Mann, Brandeis International Business School.

The headline from Capitol Hill on Janet Yellen: She's the "most popular" of President Barack Obama's nominees. That's how conservative former Fed economist Kevin Hassett summed up his talks with Republican lawmakers ahead of Yellen's confirmation hearing.

"She had great meetings; people have serious policy concerns, but I think this is going to be kind of an easy confirmation," the American Enterprise Institute scholar told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Thursday.

But Hassett said Yellen's GOP critics want the dovish Fed vice chair to express "some kind of regret" or a sign that extraordinary monetary measures—such as the current quantitative easing program to buy $85 billion worth of bonds every month—won't go on forever.

(Read more: Could Fed's Yellen sound like a hawk?)

Later Thursday, the Senate Banking Committee is scheduled to begin the confirmation process of Yellen to succeed Ben Bernanke as chair of the Fed. Even her detractors admit she's likely to be confirmed—thus becoming the first woman ever to serve as head of the central bank.

Yellen will give predictability: Sen. Heitkamp
Janet Yellen will appear before the Senate Banking Committee Thursday morning. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) thinks Yellen will be approved.

Democrats had questions about former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers for the job, but Yellen should get "unanimous Democrat support," said Senate Banking Committee member Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.

Heitkamp told "Squawk Box" that Yellen has the right credentials to keep the economic recovery going. "I'm more concerned about a sluggish recovery than I am about another economic crisis."

Another former Fed economist, Catherine Mann, said on CNBC the low cost of borrowing has helped everyone, but one of the drawbacks to QE is that it has disproportionately helped wealthier asset holders.

But Senator Heitkamp pointed out that "in a day when we're moving away from defined benefits to defined contributions, more and more of the middle-class has their savings in the stock market. So {QE] is not just benefiting the one percent."

Through three rounds of QE, the Fed has quadrupled its balance sheet to $3.8 trillion, and investors are wondering when the central bank plans to start scaling back those purchases.

In an interview on CNBC Thursday, Morgan Stanley Chairman and CEO James Gorman said he expects the Fed to taper in the next couple of months. He added that it's the right thing to do against the backdrop of a recovering economy.

(Read more: Taper likely in next couple of months: Morgan Stanley)

Janet Yellen
Getty Images
Janet Yellen

In prepared testimony before Thursday morning's hearing, Yellen seemed to underscore his dovish credentials. She said she thinks the economy has made "good progress" but there's more to be done to "regain the ground lost in the crisis and the recession."

(Read more: Yellen: Still need to support recovery)

The unemployment rate of 7.3 percent in October is still "too high," Yellen added, while pointing out that inflation is running below the Fed's goal of 2 percent and expected to continue that way for "some time."

"For these reasons, the Federal Reserve is using its monetary policy tools to promote a more robust recovery," she said.

Yellen did leave open the possibility of tapering bond purchases, but said the "surest path" to getting there is to support the economic recovery.

Quantitative easing aside, the Fed has repeatedly said it will keep interest rates near zero, where they've been held since late 2008.

By CNBC's Matthew J. Belvedere. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_SquawkCNBC.

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