WASHINGTON/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - As political pressure mounted on the Federal Reserve this spring in the form of a regulation relief bill and a probe into an alleged information leak, Fed Chair Janet Yellen kicked her congressional outreach efforts into high gear.
Yellen connected with more individual lawmakers in May than in any other month since she took on the Fed’s top role in February 2014, according to her most recent calendar disclosure, obtained through a freedom of information request.
A test of that effort will come on Wednesday, when Yellen delivers her semi-annual monetary policy report to the House Financial Services Committee, the scene of intense verbal clashes when Yellen last appeared before that panel in February.
The hearing gets under way at 10:00 a.m. but Yellen’s prepared testimony will be released at 08:30 a.m.
Of her nearly six hours of lawmaker meetings in May, Yellen spent more than five with Republicans in a sign of how seriously she is taking the threats aimed at the U.S. central bank’s autonomy from the Republican-controlled Congress, where calls for greater oversight over the Fed have grown louder since last year.
The only other month that came close in terms of Yellen’s engagement with Congress was June 2014, with 5 hours and 15 minutes spent with three Democrats and three Republicans. The meetings coincided with the confirmation of two new Fed governors.
This year, the heaviest pressure is coming from the House of Representatives, where Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling has pressed the Fed for more disclosure stemming from an alleged Fed information leak dating back to 2012.
The leak is likely to be a hot topic at Wednesday’s House hearing. Yellen appears before the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday.
Brandon Barford, a partner at Washington D.C. research firm Beacon Policy Advisors, said Fed staff consistently engage with the House and Senate committees that oversee the Fed. Face time between Fed governors and committee members is less frequent.
“Though that does in fact happen when someone wants something, has a question, or a concern,” said Barford, a former staffer for Senate Banking Chairman Richard Shelby.
When Yellen appeared in front of the House earlier this year, Republican lawmakers criticized her for spending more time with left-leaning politicians and organizations.
That is no longer the case.
Yellen met with 11 lawmakers in May, including nine Republicans. That compares to an average of around two lawmaker meetings per month previously, two-thirds of which were with Democrats. To date, the Fed chair has met with Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren six times, the most of any lawmaker.
Barford points out that in-person time with the Fed chair is rare and important for lawmakers. On this metric, Republicans have made headway, with Yellen breaking bread with four of them compared with two Democrats since the Republicans took over the Senate this year.
“The Federal Reserve Board values transparency and accountability and aims to respond in a timely and complete manner to all congressional inquiries,” a Fed spokesman said in an email.
The lawmaker meals include an hour-long breakfast with Wisconsin Representative Sean Duffy, who with Hensarling has been driving the leak case against the Fed. She also spoke by phone with Hensarling earlier in May. Still, the pair have continued to push their case, sending another formal demand last month for the Fed to offer more information.
Yellen also had two phone calls with Shelby in the days leading up to the committee’s passage of a regulation relief bill, portions of which aim to force corporate governance changes at the Fed.
Reporting by Michael Flaherty and Ann Saphir; Editing by Andrea Ricci