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Time for the Fed to stand up to its critics

John M. Berry is a guest columnist who has covered the economy for four decades for the Washington Post and other publications.

By John M. Berry

Financial crises and the policies to deal with them top the agenda at the Kansas City Fed’s Jackson Hole conference. But what is actually going to be on everyone’s mind at the august gathering is the uncertain future of the Federal Reserve itself.

Many members of Congress want to clip the Fed’s wings for failing to prevent the crisis and for its actions since the meltdown began two years ago. In particular, most are angry about government bailouts, starting with the $29 billion in Fed backing for the purchase of Bear Stearns by JPMorgan Chase.

Financial institutions got into trouble because they took enormous risks, and the public bailouts look suspiciously like unjustified rewards for fat cats’ wildly reckless behavior. But the bailouts were an unavoidable cost of halting the country’s plunge into a second Great Depression. Congress has got to swallow its anger and do what is needed for the future.